Law & Courts

Latest Round in Utah Battle Goes to Unions

By Mark Walsh — January 22, 2008 1 min read

A political boxing match in Utah between state legislators and anti-union groups, on one hand, and the state teachers’ union and other public-employee unions, on the other, has reached the end of another round, and the unions won.

A federal appeals court on Jan. 10 struck down a Utah law that bars school districts and other local government agencies from withholding voluntary political contributions from the paychecks of their employees.

“By banning a contribution method preferred by many union members, the [Voluntary Contributions Act] increases the difficulty of contributing to labor union political funds” and thus unconstitutionally “burdens political speech,” said a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver.

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When the measure was passed in 2001, officials of the Utah Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, said it was retribution for a statewide teachers’ strike in the fall of 2000. (“Utah Eyes Ban on Payroll Deductions For Political Giving,” Feb. 7, 2001.)

The union also believes the law was meant to shrink its political war chest.

The law “substantially reduced the UEA’s political action contributions,” said Michael McCoy, the general counsel of the state teachers’ union. “We’re still recovering from that.”

The state was joined in its defense of the law by several state and national groups that oppose unions on such issues as payroll deductions for dues and political action funds, including the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, based in Springfield, Va.

Stefan H. Gleason, a vice president of National Right to Work, said government agencies “should not act as bag men for the unions.”

Still, while he believes the court ruling was incorrect, he argued that Utah’s law “did not meaningfully cut into the unions’ coercive power.”

Meanwhile, the Utah attorney general’s office is deciding whether to appeal the ruling by the 10th Circuit court.

A similar Idaho law struck down in October by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, is the subject of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 23, 2008 edition of Education Week

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