Opinion: Editorials

Examiner Editorial: Fighting for the little guy's First Amendment

|
Photo - U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR) (Getty Images)
U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR) (Getty Images)
Opinion,Editorial

Republicans, still licking their wounds from the election, have belatedly come to the realization that they have been neglecting middle-class, working Joes. Letting the tax cut debate boil down to whether the Bush cuts should be extended for the wealthy in addition to everyone else doesn't help.

How to win those voters back without casting free-market principles aside is the challenge the GOP now faces. Here's one way to start: Rep. Tim Griffin's, R-Ark., bill to codify the Supreme Court's Knox v. Service Employees International Union decision. It would be a simple, straightforward way for Congress to say it is sticking up for the little guy.

In Knox v. SEIU, the court put the kibosh on a Big Labor practice that enabled it to fund political campaigns with money pried from the pockets of people who weren't even union members.

Here's how it worked: Some states allow collective-bargaining agreements between unions and employers that require even nonunion employees to pay membership dues. The legal theory is that these nonunion employees benefit from the collective-bargaining agreements the union negotiates, and so they must compensate the union for its efforts.

This is limited to activities related to collective bargaining though.

Nonunion employees are not required to pay dues for other union activities like political campaigns. Unions are required to send out annual notices to those employees, identifying the noncollective-bargaining expenses so they can opt out if they desire.

Big Labor has gotten around this by levying special emergency fees on workers from time to time. The SEIU did that in 2005 to raise funds to stop two California ballot measures. One plucky employee said no.

"I strongly supported one of the [ballot] propositions and was angry that I was forced to pay to oppose it," said Dianne Knox, according to National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

The Supreme Court ruled that before unions can make a special assessment, they must alert nonunion employees and those employees must specifically "opt-in" to pay the dues. Big Labor, denied an easy way to bulk up its treasuries before an election, has been fuming ever since.

The decision was yet another narrow 5-4 ruling though. The liberal justices just couldn't stomach limiting union power. Which means that should a current justice retire, unions will be eager to find a test case to revisit it. And President Obama just got another four years to appoint justices in the event any leave the bench.

Which is precisely why Republicans should act now to codify Knox. Let Democrats explain why it isn't a violation of the First Amendment when unions coerce money from people who aren't even members of the union for causes they don't believe in. We'll see who wins that fight in Congress.

If the Democrats try to argue that the bill is irrelevant because the court has ruled, that itself will be a telling sign that the issue isn't dead. Let ordinary workers view this spectacle and decide for themselves who is protecting them.

View article comments Leave a comment