Editorial: American politics needs the balance provided by union dues.

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Editorial: American politics needs the balance provided by union dues.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

On March 29, as the so-called “paycheck protection” bill passed by the Missouri Legislature on March 3 sat in the Missouri House clerk’s office with Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto letter attached to it, the U.S. Supreme Court took action that left the matter in considerable doubt. Rather than try to override a veto, the Legislature needs to drop this item from its to-do list.

On a 4-4 vote, the short-staffed Supreme Court left intact by a ruling by the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals in a California case that upheld the system that the Missouri Legislature wants to undermine. An Orange County, Calf., teacher named Rebecca Friedrichs was challenging the California law that requires non-union teachers like her to pay “agency fees” to unions that collectively bargain for all teachers.

For decades, conservatives have been trying to get the court to overturn its 1977 decision upholding agency fees. The court heard the Friedrichs case on Jan. 11 and, based on questions during oral arguments, seemed prepared to rule in Friedrichs’ favor. But Justice Antonin Scalia’s death on Feb. 13 left the court’s conservative bloc without its anchor. The 4-4 non-decision last week left the appellate court ruling against Friedrichs intact. The court could agree to rehear the case, but absent a replacement for Scalia, the issue will not be resolved anytime soon.

At issue in Missouri is something similar, though not identical. House Bill 1891 would require members of public employee unions, including teachers but not including police officers or firefighters, to “opt-in” every year to allow their unions to use a part of their dues for political activities.

This measure’s supporters appear to be targeting Democratic Party influence, since public employee and teachers unions form a key Democratic constituency. Interestingly, unions representing firefighters and police officers are exempted from HB 1891. Their members also lean more conservative.

Missouri public employees already have the right to opt out of having their dues used for political purposes, though most don’t take the option.

In his veto message, Nixon said HB 1891 would add unnecessary burdens and “serves no purpose other than to curtail the efforts of ‘public labor organizations’” to speak with a unified voice on workplace-safety and wage issues.

Gutting the power of organized labor is a holy grail for business organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafted the model for HB 1891. Unions that forgot their purpose and became enmeshed in corruption have helped undermine their own support. The effect has been to enhance corporate power to the detriment of working-class Americans.

The Legislature is expected to try to override Nixon’s veto, which would be a short-sighted mistake. Regardless of party, any lawmaker who even pretends to give a damn about Missouri workers must vote no.

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