WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a state law banning local governments from letting workers use payroll deductions to fund their union’s political activities, a decision that could strike at organized labor’s ability to raise funds at local levels.
Five labor unions and the Idaho state AFL-CIO successfully argued in lower federal courts that a 2003 Idaho law forcing cities, counties and school districts to eliminate a payroll deduction funding union political action committees violated the First Amendment.
“Idaho’s law does not restrict political speech, but rather declines to promote that speech by allowing public employee checkoff for political activities,” Chief Justice John Roberts said as the court voted 6-3 to overturn those rulings.
John Rumel, lawyer for the Idaho Education Association, said the decision could prompt anti-labor state legislatures to eliminate payroll checkoff for political activity in hopes it would hurt unions. But Rumel also said that they have moved away from payroll deductions and to electronic funds transfer after people get their paychecks for political contributions just in case the court did not rule their way.
“While we’re certainly disappointed in the outcome, we’ve moved on,” Rumel said.
Roberts was joined in his opinion by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito.
“The ban on political payroll deductions furthers Idaho’s interest in separating the operations of government from partisan politics,” the chief justice said. “That interest extends to all public employers at whatever level of government.”