“Our success or failure will mark a turning point not only for our union but for the entire labor movement
,” Lee Saunders, the new AFSCME president, told his members. Attendees noted how few changes in labor law they had been able to get through Congress since President Obama’s election. Union members in San Diego and San Jose, two cities that voted heavily for Obama in 2008, mourned the overwhelming passage this month of ballot measures in those cities curbing public-sector pension benefits: In both, two-thirds of voters approved the measures. Hanging over the crowd was the crushing loss unions experienced in Wisconsin three weeks ago, when GOP governor Scott Walker won 38 percent of the votes of union members and apparently carried a majority of private-sector-union members
But even as AFSCME delegates convened in Los Angeles, they received word of yet another blow. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case out of California that if a union wants to make a special demand from members for political activity in addition to its regular fees, it must give them ample notice so they can ask for their money back. But the court, in an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, went further and indicated the union must also make its fee assessment opt-in instead of opt-out...
The court stated its belief that “the general rule — individuals should not be compelled to subsidize private groups or private speech — should prevail.” Epps interprets all this to mean that the court is sending a clear message to Young and the National Right to Work organization: “Bring us a case and we will void the agency shop altogether.”..
After Governor Walker ended mandatory collection of union dues for public-sector workers last year, AFSCME’s Local 24 in Madison, which represented 22,300 Wisconsin state workers, saw its membership shrink by two-thirds, to 7,100. Similarly, the American Federation of Teachers has lost 6,000 of its 17,000 members. Small wonder: Teachers’-union dues in Wisconsin range from a hefty $700 a year up to more than $1,000.
That kind of shift explains why the unions fought Walker’s reforms so bitterly — they viewed it as a matter of life and death for their political machines. Similarly, you can expect a titanic battle this November in California, where a ballot measure going by the title of Stop Special Interest Money Now has qualified for the ballot. It would prohibit both corporations and unions from collecting political contributions from employees through payroll deduction unless annual written consent is given...