Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Union Sues Indiana on Right to Work; Cites Citizens United?

According to President Obama, striking down the Affordable Care Act would be unforgivable judicial activism. According to his grassroots base, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was an unjustifiable vote in favor of unbridled corporate power. But according to one union, Citizens United is proof that Indiana’s right-to-work law unconstitutionally infringes unions’ free speech rights—by preventing unions from extracting dues from workers on the pretext that they are bargaining on workers’ behalf.

“Attorneys for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 argue in a court brief that Indiana’s new law, which allows workers to not pay union dues even if a union bargains on their behalf, interferes with the union’s free speech rights and ‘impinges on this fundamental right of union membership.’” (Associated Press, 4/9/12)

It’s strange enough to see the President’s union allies hang their hopes for the status quo on a ruling slammed by his base. But the logic of the union’s case gets even stranger.

Local 150 claims that it “legitimately utilizes dues money collected through agency shop provisions in its collective bargaining agreements” in order to “finance political speech,” among other things. Since Indiana’s right-to-work law bans agency shop agreements, it “restricts a channel through which speech-supporting finance might flow.”

It’s so crazy, it just might work—at least in the minds of the union’s imaginative attorneys. Even if it’s true, as Local 150 attorney Dale Pierson observes, that the courts require workers to pay unions “the costs of representing them’—and federal law mandates that unions represent all the workers—it’s quite a stretch to claim that union-selected political expenditures count as ‘representation.’

The recognized purpose of unions is to represent members’ interests inside the workplace in bargaining with employers—not to represent them outside the workplace by pushing whatever they consider their members’ best political interests to be.

Categories: Center for Union Facts