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Labor’s Mensis Horriblus

June 21st, 2012  |  Matt Pavich

June’s been a rough month for labor unions. It dawned with the hope that Labor would get payback against its Public Enemy # 1, by defeating Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in a recall election. But, ironically for a movement theoretically attuned to the feeling on the ground, Labor didn’t realize that as much as 60 percent of the electorate didn’t think that public officials should be recalled unless public misconduct was involved. Given those numbers, Walker’s 53-47 percent victory could almost be seen as a moral victory for Labor.

But moral victories don’t fill the coffers and those coffers are now a little more bare, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) used a flawed procedure to impose a special assessment on both members and non-union members in the unit that the SEIU represented. Of more long-lasting damage to Labor’s cause was the holding that non-member employees can no longer be forced to pay special assessments without affirmatively opting in to make such payments.

At first glance, the 5-4 ruling doesn’t seem to be a terrific blow against Labor. After all, under the old rules, non-members could affirmatively opt-out of special assessments for political purposes. But that one word makes all the difference. Under the court’s new ruling, non-members would have to opt-in¬ before their dues could be used for previously undisclosed political purposes. That one word will likely spell disaster for union spending on political causes.

Think about it, it’s much easier to let a union take money from you. After all, the union takes dues every month. But now, non-members would have to make a decision to let the union use their money for political purposes. Non-members who make the choice to give their money to a union that they’ve chosen not to join would be as rare as a member of the Hoffa family at a Kennedy family picnic.

Opponents of organized labor saw the ruling for what it is. Mark Mix, President of National Right to Work, praised the Court for closing “a giant loophole that allowed union bosses to confiscate money from workers’ paychecks for political spending sprees.” The Court’s ruling may have ostensibly been about notice requirements, but it will have its greatest impact on the ability of unions to spend money in the political arena.

And we all know how valuable money is in the political arena.

After today’s ruling, labor unions will most likely have less money for projects like recalling governors who strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights. Labor may have thought June got off to a bad start, but if today’s ruling is any indication, it’s just the start of a very rough patch.