"Curbs On Unions Likely To Starve Activist Groups" -- that's the lead headline (top right of page A1) in today's print edition of the New York Times. In the online edition, it's "Supreme Court Labor Decision Wasn't Just a Loss for Unions." The gist of the article is that this right-wing Supreme Court is now going after our friends to de-fund them. To Pravda, that seems to be a big problem. To me, it seems like there's a rather gigantic scandal going on here that has nothing to do with what Pravda thinks is the scandal.
The Times's article discusses the effects of the Supreme Court's decision last week in the case called Janus v. AFSCME. That's the case that invalidated so-called "fair share" payments, which are the payments that many state and local governments have required their employees to make to labor unions, even if a given employee declines to join the union. Henceforth, under the majority opinion in Janus by Justice Alito, if a government employee does not want to join a labor union, he does not have to pay the union anything as a condition of keeping his job.
OK, but how exactly is this going to "starve activist groups"? After all, prior to this decision, didn't non-members of the union already have the right to decline to contribute to the union's political activities, and to limit their payments to the portion of union dues that supports collective bargaining activities? That's sure what I thought the law provided. Why did I think that? I thought that because that was the holding of the 1977 case overruled by Janus, namely Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. In Abood, the state of Michigan had required public employees in unionized workplaces to pay full union dues, including both the portion that paid for collective bargaining activities, and also the portion that paid for political advocacy. The Supreme Court in Abood upheld the compulsory payment of the portion of dues supporting collective bargaining, but held that the union must allow objecting employees to opt out of funding the political portion of the union's activities:
We do not hold that a union cannot constitutionally spend funds for the expression of political views, on behalf of political candidates, or toward the advancement of other ideological causes not germane to its duties as collective-bargaining representative. Rather, the Constitution requires only that such expenditures be financed from charges, dues, or assessments paid by employees who do not object to advancing those ideas and who are not coerced into doing so against their will by the threat of loss of governmental employment.
Thus the whole concept that a union cannot charge its dissenting members to fund its activities that are "for the expression of political views, on behalf of political candidates, or toward the advancement of other ideological causes" is in fact a creature of Abood. Justice Kagan, in her dissent in Janus, in seeking to retain Abood, certainly also had the impression that Abood prohibited unions from charging objecting members for their "political or ideological" activities:
Under that decision [Abood], a government entity could require public employees to pay a fair share of the cost that a union incurs when negotiating on their behalf over terms of employment. But no part of that fair-share payment could go to any of the union’s political or ideological activities.
And yet now, less than a week after Janus comes down, we are learning that the consequence of the new decision will likely be to "starve activist groups," of "tens of millions of dollars a year." In other words, in defiance of Abood, and contrary to what Justice Kagan might think was permitted, unions have been systematically stealing massive amounts of money from dissenters to fund their political activities. From todays Times:
The Supreme Court decision striking down mandatory union fees for government workers was not only a blow to unions. It will also hit hard at a vast network of groups dedicated to advancing liberal policies and candidates. Some of these groups work for immigrants and civil rights; others produce economic research; still others turn out voters or run ads in Democratic campaigns. Together, they have benefited from tens of millions of dollars a year from public-sector unions — funding now in jeopardy because of the prospective decline in union revenue.
But how could that be if the rights of dissenters to not pay for these activities were already being honored, as required by Abood? The answer is that they weren't. The blue states and their employee unions engaged in massive flouting and defiance of the rule laid down in Abood. The Times's own article reveals that money from dissenters in the "tens of millions of dollars a year" has been sent to explicitly political activist groups. Justice Alito's majority opinion contains some detail as to how this has come about:
Objecting employees . . . face a daunting and expensive task if they wish to challenge union chargeability determinations. While Hudson requires a union to provide nonmembers with “sufficient information to gauge the propriety of the union’s fee,” 475 U. S., at 306, the Hudson notice in the present case and in others that have come before us do not begin to permit a nonmember to make such a determination.
In this case, the notice lists categories of expenses and sets out the amount in each category that is said to be attributable to chargeable and nonchargeable expenses. . . . How could any nonmember determine whether these numbers are even close to the mark without launching a legal challenge and retaining the services of attorneys and accountants? Indeed, even with such services, it would be a laborious and difficult task to check these figures.
In short, there was an obstacle course erected for anyone who didn't want to pay for the political activities, and the obstacles were so severe that some tens of millions of dollars per year got improperly stolen and diverted. Actually, the "tens of millions" is the Times's number. I'm going to bet it's at least hundreds of millions.
And who has all this money gone to? Examples from the Times article include Americans United for Change, the Economic Policy Institute, Mi Familia Vota, America Votes, and various ballot measures, including measures seeking tax increases, higher minimum wages, and limits on charter schools. Progressive causes all, of course.
You might think that the Justice Department would have a few resources to look into this matter, in between chasing "Russian collusion" and shaking down banks.