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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Anti-worker end-run in WA

Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire pulled a fast one last Friday when she quietly signed a bill that guts a state paycheck protection law currently being debated in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Passed by initiative in 1992 with 72% support, the law prevents unions from using dues from nonmembers for political activities without their consent. The state teachers union, the Washington Education Association (WEA), has challenged the law, and last year the High Court accepted the case.

To mitigate a potential ruling against the union - which they apparently anticipate - Gregoire and fellow Democrats in the state legislature rammed through amendments to the law that they hope will make any decision moot. Under the new provisions, unions can employ accounting tricks that virtually guarantee they will never need to seek permission for political spending. And as an additional slap in the face to voters, lawmakers attached a bogus "emergency" clause to the bill that insulates it from future referendum challenges.

What's driving Big Labor's vehement opposition to paycheck protection is obvious. A year after Washington implemented its law, voluntary teacher contributions to the WEA's political action committee dropped by 85%. Utah adopted paycheck protection in 2001, and in no time the Utah teachers union saw a similar drop-off in PAC contributions.

"You should only be as strong as the support behind you," says Michael Reitz of the Olympia-based Evergreen Freedom Foundation, "and it shouldn't be artificially inflated with coerced donations." But until the courts say otherwise, labor unions will get away with coercing cash at will.