Paycheck Protection Upheld in Idaho

Published April 1, 1999

Although labor unions derailed a paycheck protection initiative in California last year, union officials in Idaho were not so successful. There, a state district court judge upheld the constitutionality of the state’s paycheck protection law against a challenge by the local teacher union affiliate, backed by the National Education Association.

Idaho’s paycheck protection law, ruled judge Daniel Eismann, furthers “an important governmental interest of contributors not being required to contribute to political causes that they do not favor.”

“This is an important victory that further undermines the unions’ false claims that paycheck protection is unconstitutional,” said Ron Nehring of Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington, DC-based organization that believes similar measures are needed in all 50 states to protect the rights of individual union members.

Before 1997, when an Idaho teacher became a union member money was deducted from his or her paycheck, not only for collective bargaining purposes but also for political activities. Unless the teacher requested a refund for the political contributions, they would continue to be deducted. More than 90 percent of Idaho teachers “contributed” to the union’s political action committee under this arrangement.

In 1997, state lawmakers approved a paycheck protection bill that required the unions to obtain a member’s consent each year before PAC contributions could be deducted from his or her paycheck. Under this new arrangement, the percentage of members who contributed to the union’s PAC dropped to about 75 percent.

The Idaho Education Association viewed the new requirements as interference in the local union’s internal operations. Backed by the NEA’s legal defense team, the IEA filed suit, arguing that the paycheck protection measure was a violation of the union’s free speech rights under both the Idaho Constitution and the U.S. Constitution.

But Judge Eismann wasn’t swayed by union officials’ arguments. He focused instead on the right of rank-and-file union members to withhold financial support from political causes they disagreed with. Individual members had a “right not to contribute,” said the judge, and the new law made it easier to exercise this right.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News.