The Supreme Court calls attention to a troubling anomaly.
by Paul Kersey
There are close to 400,000 government employees in Illinois, and millions more across the country, who are forced to pay union dues or agency fees in order to keep their jobs. But now a majority of the United States Supreme Court has signaled that they are ready to rethink the entire thing.
The millions of dollars that government unions take in from mandatory dues and agency fees have enabled them to create the state’s most powerful political operation. At the same time, that money has gone a long way toward insulating union officials from any accountability to the men and women they are supposed to represent. Whether or not individual policemen or teachers actually benefit from the union’s political activities, the money flows in either way.
The problem is that employees are forced to financially support an organization they may oppose – a violation of the First Amendment’s protections of speech and association. Until now the Supreme Court has mitigated this problem by providing that workers must be allowed to quit the union, and then pay the union reduced dues that represent their share of the cost of representation. This is referred to as “Beck Rights” and in theory at least, it allows union-represented workers to opt out of paying for union politics.
But for Justice Samuel Alito this is not necessarily enough. Alito, writing for a majority of the court, took note of how the courts have backed into the entire system of forced dues and Beck rights. Taking note of how collective bargaining in government is full of “powerful political and civic consequences," Alito concluded that forced union dues are an “anomaly”.
Can this “anomaly” survive the strict scrutiny that is usually applied when basic First Amendment rights are infringed? Up to now the court has not had a case where they could take this issue head on. But Justice Alito seems to be inviting some attorney to file that case.
Paul Kersey is the Illinois Policy Institute's Director of Labor Policy.