OP-ED | Beginning of the End for Public Labor Unions?
Though Connecticut’s public employee unions remain the most dominant political force in the state, new evidence may mark the beginning of their decline.
Speaker Chris Donovan’s ongoing straw-donor scandal is slowly exposing the seedy side of the relationship between public labor unions and powerful politicians. The complaint that led to Donovan Finance Director Rob Braddock is remarkable for how revealing it is. The union organizers who beat their chests so proudly in defense of the common man seem to have strikingly little regard for him when he is one of their pawns: “I don’t know if you know the last time one of these a_shole drug addicts bounced a check even though we put the f_cking money right in their hand.”
Few believe that a vagabond campaign operative like Mr. Braddock was the real target of the FBI investigation that ensnared him. The real target, whoever it might be, seems likely to be another critical cog in the union political machine that keeps public labor in power.
As I wrote last week, the public unions’ assault on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proved a strategic blunder when he scored a surprisingly strong victory. The casus belli in that case, giving public employees the right to opt in to union dues rather than forcing them to opt out, re-emerged this week with potentially bigger consequences.
Policy nerds across the country held their breath on Thursday in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that will determine the fate of President Obama’s health insurance reforms. Though it ultimately did not come, more than 70,000 readers tuned in to the Live Blog at SCOTUSblog, the unofficial blog of record for all things Supreme Court, as decisions were announced.
While they waited, cases that might not have otherwise received much attention were suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Southern Union Company v. United States had geeks everywhere brushing up on their Sixth Amendment case law and tweeting furiously even though, as the liveblogger on SCOTUSblog put it, “ . . . you may not have been waiting for Southern Union, but Southern Union was probably waiting for Southern Union.”
It would have been just a blip on the radar had the next case announced been Florida v. HHS, but instead Knox v. SEIU became the highlight of the Supreme Court’s day.
The case dealt with a special assessment fee imposed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 1000 in California in 2005. SEIU failed to give nonmember employees notice of their ability to opt out of the fee, as is required.
In Justice Sam Alito’s Opinion of the Court, he wrote: “ . . . requiring objecting nonmembers to opt out of paying the nonchargeable portion of union dues — as opposed to exempting them from making such payments unless they opt in — represents a remarkable boon for unions.”
Although the impact of the ruling in the specific case is quite narrow, the implication of a Supreme Court with a stated majority preference for opt-in political dues is enormous. Wisconsin’s union ranks were cut in half after the Walker reforms gave public workers there a similar option. Doing the same in Connecticut would shake the political power structure to its core.
In light of all that has gone on in the last month, however, it would be for the better.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com