‘Right To Work’ Goes to Washington for Supreme Court Challenge

    While hired petition carriers are beginning to collect signatures to put a “right to work” initiative on the ballot in Colorado, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case regarding the same issue, with a decision that could drastically change the way labor unions participate in politics.The Supreme Court agreed to review a case submitted by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a Virginia-based advocacy group that supports right to work efforts.

    Court Justices will be deciding if certain employees in a unionized workplace can have dues and other fees used towards legislative activities, like lobbying and organizing. The decision could have national repercussions if the court finds in the plaintiff’s favor and limits the scope of union funds that can be spent in the political arena.

    Right to work legislation such as the measure being proposed in Colorado, seeks to nullify “union shop” agreements with employers, in which an employee joins a preexisting union at a workplace after a minimum period upon accepting the job. Such agreements thwart attempts by management to flood the workforce with anti-union workers, thus obtaining a majority to terminate the union altogether.

    The Colorado Labor Peace Act, which was crafted in 1943, strikes a distinct balance between right to work and more union friendly policies. One provision requires unions to win two workplace elections before they can negotiate a union shop situation .

    Event without the ballot measure, there are also a number of right to work union agreements in Colorado, where employees are not required to pay dues or fees to a union. Whether workers chose to pay dues, unions are still required to cover them under the contract negotiated with the place of business, meaning that employees who chose not to be union members will still receive the possible perks of organized labor–paid leave, health care, and set wages–while contributing nothing financially.

    The case being review by the court was rejected in Maine, a non-right to work state where 20 employees in a union shop complained that their dues were going towards legislative activities.

    Labor officials have criticized (PDF) the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation for refusing to expose its funders, a disclosure that is not legally required. There is still very little information regarding the group’s financial backing.

    Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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