Michigan Union Dues Law Upheld

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit May 23 affirmed a district court decision upholding a Mich. law that requires labor unions to obtain permission from members at least once a year before using their dues for political contributions.  This paycheck protection law, which also applies to employers, requires the annual written consent of any person who has an automatic paycheck deduction that is used for political purposes.

The Mich. AFL-CIO challenged this law in 1998, arguing that the burden placed on the unions’ political speech was excessive and unconstitutional. The Mich. AFL-CIO lost. The court dismissed the Mich. AFL-CIO’s argument that the law burdens freedom of speech more than is necessary by forcing the unions to resort to a face-to-face method of solicitation in order to obtain member permission for political donations.

“The governmental interest in this case is the right of the individuals not to contribute to unfavored political causes,” Judge Alan E. Norris wrote in the decision.  Norris also cited the court’s 1997 ruling that “even if contributors were to decline, … the cause would be the exercise of informed choice by individuals, not the government suppression of political advocacy.”

Judge Harry Wellford filed a concurring opinion on the case, stressing that the law furthers a governmental interest without burdening free speech. “There is no constitutional right to have union dues deducted from payroll or for a check-off in the first instance,” Wellford wrote.

This was the second time the case had come before the Sixth Circuit. In 1997, the appeals court had reversed a district court decision to grant a preliminary injunction to enjoin enforcement of the law. The Sixth Circuit disagreed with the lower court’s use of the First Amendment strict scrutiny test, and instead decided the case based on an intermediate scrutiny test. [BNA 6/8/00]