Thursday, December 07, 2006

Check me off 

In the early years of this blog -- when there were multiple bloggers of St. Cloud State here -- one issue we repeatedly discussed was the status of so-called "fair share union members." This euphemism referred to faculty in the MnSCU seven universities who were not full members of the union, but paid their "fair share" of 85% of union dues for the benefits they receive from collective bargaining. This comes to more than $500 per year. But to vote on any isse beyond one's own department, you had to be a full-share member. The additional amount is able to be used for union activities besides those directly connected to collective bargaining, and a big part of that money goes to political activity.

It sounds bad, and it is ... but it could be worse.

Today's Wall Street Journal carries a (free) article by Stephen Moore describing a similar situation in Washington state. There, voters passed an initiative that required teachers unions to get written approval from their members "before using dues to support campaigns or candidates." That initiative was in place for almost 14 years before, last spring, the state's Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. Moore does an excellent job in dissecting the merits of the case, and finds it isn't a close call.

If I understand the article and law correctly, the teachers unions in Washington do not allow someone to be a fair-share member. They instead collect dues from everyone and then require those who don't want to support the union's political agenda to opt out.
The Washington law states unambiguously that a union may not use dues "for political purposes without the affirmative consent of the nonmembers from whom the excess fees were taken." The Washington Supreme Court somehow twisted these words to mean that the unions can spend as they wish unless workers object and affirmatively opt out. That's a big distinction, because the unions make it as time-consuming and cumbersome as possible to get the money back once they snatch it.

The Supreme Court also has an opportunity to define what the First Amendment "right of association" means. What it ought to mean is that both parties voluntarily agree to associate and that Americans have a constitutional right to not associate. The unions are arguing for the right to collect dues coercively from every instructor who stands up in front of a public school classroom.
It is only in comparison to that that the MnSCU situation looks better. Here you have to make a positive step to join the union as a full-share member. However, the rules of the union do not allow one to resign from it except for three months of the year (two of which is when we are away from campus), and requires you to sign a second letter. The union, quite naturally, does not make it easy to get this information.

Moore concludes that "The Supreme Court can now ensure that the First Amendment means that every teacher's voice must be heard--whether they are in a union or not." It might even help fair-share members at SCSU be heard on their own campus.