Editorial: In government, union fees coerce workers’ politics

pam-harris-joshTacoma, Washington’s News Tribune editorial is clear that government unions create forced political speech as argued in NRTW’s Supreme Court case Harris v. Quinn:

Labor advocates talk as if public and private unions are peas in a pod. The U.S. Supreme Court suggested Monday they were more like spinach and rhubarb. The court got it right.

In a ruling with broad implications for government spending, five justices decided that Illinois couldn’t force home care workers in that state to pay “agency fees” to the Service Employees International Union.

The larger issue – which Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion raised but didn’t settle – is whether a government ought to compel any public employee to pay agency fees. This is where the difference between public and private unions becomes crucial.

In government, as opposed to business, spending is public policy. Attempts to redirect government spending – to wages, benefits or anything else – are political by definition. They are a form of lobbying, and they affect the public. In Tacoma, for example, compensation for public employees kept on climbing through the Great Recession and its aftermath even as the city skimped on public safety, libraries and street maintenance.

Some maverick employees may feel they’re compensated well enough already; they may prefer that that public funds not be spent giving them another raise. They might prefer that the library stay open on Friday night, or that more potholes be filled.

They have a right to feel that way. If they have chosen not to join a public union, they should also have the right not to subsidize collective bargaining that violates their convictions about government priorities.

The argument for using state power to compel agency fees in the public sector boils down to: It’s good for unions. That’s true enough, but it’s a thin rationale for compromising a worker’s First Amendment right to political expression.