U.S. unions – throwing out the baby with the bathwater…

“Stripped of the ability to collect mandatory fees, many public-sector unions will lose much of their bargaining power. Some will likely collapse… Now the court is poised to wipe out public-sector unions in the name of free speech.” (1)

I have complained bitterly about compulsory union dues being used for political purposes in Canada for decades, and I don’t differentiate between public- and private-sector unions. And now, in the States, it is possible that the right to collect dues even for legitimate purposes of bargaining and workplace representation may be taken away from public-sector unions – in the name of the First Amendment.

Specifically, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case by a number of applicants to take away the right of unions to collect compulsory dues payments on the grounds that “…mandatory union payments constitute compelled political speech in violation of the First Amendment.”

I can truly relate to the intention to stop unions from freely using their member’s compulsory dues payments to favour socialist and “progressive” causes.

Unfortunately, the applicants in this case seem unaware – or it may even be their intention – that unions, without the ability to collect dues, will likely collapse, with devastating effects on wages and benefits as government employers naturally take advantage of their court-ordered good fortune.

I addressed this issue in a Toronto Sun guest column last year “Hudak, Ryan both wrong on unions” (2) in which I stated as follows: “…I do believe, simultaneously, that taking away the Rand Formula (3) will destroy workers’ rights to fair treatment, and that spending dues money on political issues is immoral and unacceptable.”

The phrase “mandatory union payments constitute compelled political speech” is going to get a lot of use by me in future, and even without a First Amendment, it is possible that a similar action in Canada could succeed under free speech rights. And, the right to freedom of association surely includes the right to not associate in any compulsory political sense.

But any initiative of that nature should take care to not infringe upon the rights of unions to collect dues for the purposes of workplace representation; let’s not “throw out the baby with the bathwater” as seems likely to happen in the States.

I will try to watch how this case unfolds. The results either way will be of massive import on both sides of the border.

Jeff Goodall.

(1) See here.

(2) – See here.

(3) – See here.