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InsiderOnline Blog: March 2012

Unions Threaten the First Amendment

The Supreme Court will soon have a chance to bolster First Amendment rights if it accepts Theresa Riffey’s suit against Illinois for forcing her to join the Service Employees International Union. Riffey provides in-home care to her quadriplegic brother and receives a stipend from the state. A state law deems such home workers to be state employees, effectively unionizing them. Even though SEIU is powerless to improve Riffey’s working conditions, she still has to pay dues. The state’s fiction, as David Rivkin and Andrew Grossman explain (National Review, February 29), is a case of forced speech:

[T]here has always been a tension between the First Amendment, which protects all Americans’ rights to free association and to speak or remain silent, and labor laws that compel all workers subject to a collective-bargaining agreement to support financially a union’s advocacy on their behalf, even if they dissent from the union’s goals and message.

The consistent rationale for the union exception to First Amendment freedom is “labor peace,” a term that harkens back to the violent strikes and lock-outs of the 1930s. But laws such as California’s and Illinois’s turn this narrow exception into a license to compel speech and association in any instance. Is labor peace really at issue when there is no workplace, no employer property is at risk, and workers’ only relationship to their putative employer is payment for services rendered to a third party? If so, doctors and lawyers who are often paid by state governments for services rendered to indigent clients or, for that matter, any person who accepts a government benefit or payment — which is to say virtually everyone — could be forced to kick back a portion to organized labor to fund speech with which they disagree.

Posted on 03/08/12 09:51 PM by Alex Adrianson

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