At the January 21 hearing in the U.S. Supreme Court case Harris v. Quinn, Justice Sam Alito repeatedly grilled Service Employees International Union (SEIU) lawyer Paul Smith about whether it is permissible, under the First Amendment, for the government to force public employees to bankroll a private organization, e.g. a union, that they reasonably believe is harming them.
In one exchange, the justice cited the example, well grounded in reality, of a teacher union that opposes merit pay and any change in the tenure system, and a teacher who is not a union member and “disagrees completely with the union on these issues.”
Even though the teacher is not a union member, continued Alito, he “still has to pay a pretty hefty agency fee, maybe $700 a year. So the teacher is paying this money to the union to make an argument to the employer with which the teacher completely disagrees.”
Alito subsequently asked what Smith would say to such an employee.
The SEIU lawyer didn’t make any pretense that teachers and other types of public employees who oppose union officials’ workplace agenda nevertheless somehow “benefit,” on the whole, from having union bosses act as their monopoly-bargaining agents, and should therefore be forced to pay dues, or be fired.
Instead, Smith, invoking the very pro-Big Labor coercion U.S. Supreme Court precedent that Harris is challenging, insisted that the forced-dues “requirement is an appropriate thing which a public employer is allowed to impose” on employees who are harmed by the union as well as those who may be helped.
Smith’s claim that it is his clients’ constitutional prerogative to force, with the government’s help, employees to pay fees for detrimental union “representation” was, to say the least, noteworthy. But in an extremely slanted commentary about the Harris case this week, Midwestern columnist Bill Knight manages completely to ignore the key question of whether Smith’s claim is correct. (The entire column is available at the link below.)
Instead, Knight simply pretends that the Harris plaintiffs, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorney Bill Messenger, who represented the plaintiffs at the hearing and is their chief counsel, the respondents, and Smith all agree that employees who don’t want a union and haven’t joined it, but are subject to its “exclusive” bargaining authority, invariably “benefit” thereby.
Not even Smith was willing to defend Big Labor’s far-fetched “all workers benefit” theory when he was presented with evidence to the contrary by Alito. So how can Knight or any other apologist for compulsory unionism now dare to invoke this theory?
It is Knight’s right to oppose the Harris plaintiffs and to dislike the Right to Work Foundation and its sister organization, the National Right to Work Committee. But he owes it to his readers to mount a better defense for his perspective than mere invocation of a highly dubious theory that even the union lawyer opposing Harris was unprepared to endorse.