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Are forced union dues key to ‘labor peace’ for public workers?

By   /   January 6, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

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ON STRIKE: American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten encourages teachers in Philadelphia and elsewhere to go on strike for better pay and benefits

Union leaders’ “labor peace” rationale for taking forced dues from teachers and other public employees is a flimsy one, a new study suggests.

The free-market Freedom Foundation reviewed decades of strike data and concluded public-sector strikes are at least 17 times more common in states where unions can take mandatory fees from nonmembers.

In briefs filed in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case before the Supreme Court, public-sector unions said workers should be forced to pay union fees to minimize conflict with management in schools and government offices.

California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs and the other plaintiffs in her case are asking for the right to choose whether to pay unions — a right that’s already protected in the 25 states with right-to-work laws.

BACKGROUND: Labor bosses ask Supreme Court to rule in favor of forced dues

Freedom Foundation labor policy analyst Maxford Nelson used government strike records to compare the prevalence of public employee strikes in right-to-work and forced-unionism states, publishing a December report on his findings.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data for 1993-2014 showed public workers were 26 times more likely to go on strike in states without right-to-work. Another federal database showed that from 1984-2014, public-sector strikes were 17 times more common in forced-unionism states.

Public employees in right-to-work states are “far less likely to disrupt government services by walking out on the job than their peers in states that require public employees to pay union dues and fees,” Nelson told Watchdog.org.

“In other words, the unions’ legal justification for mandatory dues in Friedrichs is based on a factually inaccurate foundation,” he said.

While unions’ court filings argued that labor peace requires forced union fees — even if those fees infringe on workers’ First Amendment rights — union officials publicly accuse Friedrichs of trying to silence workers.

“The public employees actually being silenced are those forced to pay money to unions they don’t support,” Nelson argued. A win for the Friedrichs plaintiffs would not prevent public employees from organizing, joining or collectively bargaining through unions.

RELATED: Union bosses smear teachers in Supreme Court case

Freedom Foundation research shows that union arguments for labor peace “are completely insufficient to justify violating public employees’ basic free speech rights,” Nelson said.

Nelson’s findings undermine a justification for forced public-sector union fees dating back to the Supreme Court’s 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education ruling.

The Friedrichs plaintiffs assert that because public-sector unions are inherently political, any form of mandatory union payment violates the First Amendment’s protection against compelled political speech.

Briefs in the case from the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO and other labor unions relied on Court precedent weighing labor peace above public employees’ First Amendment rights.

If the justices rule in favor of the Friedrichs plaintiffs, hundreds of thousands of teachers and other government workers nationwide will gain the ability to choose whether to pay unions.

NEA, AFT and AFL-CIO all failed to respond to requests for comment on the Freedom Foundation report. Oral arguments in Friedrichs v. CTA are scheduled to begin Monday, with a decision expected by June.

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Jason is an Ohio-based reporter covering labor issues for Watchdog.org, with a focus on right-to-work, public employee unions and Obamacare. Before joining Watchdog, Jason was communications director for Media Trackers Ohio. His work has been featured at FoxNews.com, Hot Air, The Daily Signal, RedState, Townhall and elsewhere. His investigations into labor union spending and Obamacare's Medicaid expansion have been cited by national commentators including Jim Geraghty, Michelle Malkin, Erick Erickson, Dana Loesch and Mark Levin. Jason can be reached on Twitter at @jasonahart and by email at [email protected]