The Orange County Register, an online conservative and reactionary rag said of Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling, June 21st, on unions and their ability to collect dues that “Workers won important free-speech rights in a decision” (http://www.ocregister.com/opinion/court-360116-union-decision.html).

Every time that unions are attacked, lose their ability to collect dues or are restricted this is called a victory for workers by the right wing press.  The story is far more complicated, which is why the Orange County Register could not report it with any real veracity that inspires reader’s confidence.

In 2005, then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special election for November of that year to pass a reform slate of initiatives, including reforms of teacher tenure and union dues strongly opposed by unions. To fight the initiatives, the SEIU imposed a special union dues addition of $6.45 a month not only on members, but on nonmembers, such as Ms. Knox, whom the union represented in collective bargaining.  Their rational was that since Ms. Knox was profiting from the collective strength of SEIU then she should pay for it for after all, the union increased both pay and improved working conditions for all employees due to their union work.

The reform initiatives all lost and the Governor gave up the fight. But Knox did not and sued SEIU over the special union dues addition saying she should not have to pay it.  Usually, nonmembers of unions are given an opportunity to opt out of paying dues earmarked for political causes, although they still are charged for union collective bargaining costs.  In this case, the SEIU gave the nonmembers no notice about, or opportunity to opt out of, the special campaign assessment.  They simply imposed the additional fee.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals supported SEIU but the US Supreme Court found that:

“Under the First Amendment, when a union imposes a special assessment or dues increase levied to meet expenses that were not disclosed when the regular assessment was set, it must provide a fresh notice and may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent” (http://www.ocregister.com/opinion/court-360116-union-decision.html).

In other words, they ruled on a procedural issue: nonmembers of unions need notice of special assessments to fund political campaigns, not that the dues themselves were illegal.

Lew Uhler, the president of the Roseville-based National Tax Limitation Committee, when asked about the decision stated:

“It’s the only fair decision for the employee” (ibid).

Mr. Uhler is a major force behind an initiative on this November’s ballot called The Stop Special Interest Money Now Act. It would go further than the Supreme Court mandated in Knox and require that unions for government employees obtain explicit permission from members for withholding dues for political purposes at any time. It also would limit the ability of corporations directly to support political campaigns. Corporations still could contribute to independent campaign-related efforts, as was protected by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010.  It’s all in the fine print.

The Court ruling on the surface seems to appear to balance out private donations to political campaigns, prohibit the collection of ‘undue’ union money and put limits on private campaign funds, but it doesn’t.  Unions contribute far less to political campaigns than private donors and have been for years.  This Supreme Court ruling only places us closer to outlawing union dues entirely under the auspices of protecting workers by allowing them to opt out.  It’s a sham and one we should expect from the US Supreme Court that gave us Citizens United.

The Orange County Register ended their editorial with the words of Thomas Jefferson:

“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”

This is as dishonest as it gets and The Orange County Register and the Suprememe court knows this.  Knox profited from successful work done by the union and their dues paying members.  She was a ‘pilot fish’ that fished her dinner from the work of the fish she attached herself to: in this case SEIU.  She wanted the benefits of collective bargaining as a free loader.

Rather than quote Jefferson whom the conservatives loathe and quote as little as possible, they should read the children’s book, The Little Red Hen.  Then they might understand the value of work and especially of underpaid and non-union work.