Last month, the Alabama legislature passed (and outgoing Governor Riley signed) the latest in a series of anti-union attacks happening around the country, as it prohibited dues deductions for public employees if any of those dues are to be used for “political activity.” The provision is shockingly harsh, making certain violations of the statute a criminal offense, even though the dues checkoff procedure is voluntary, and defining “political activities” extremely broadly. The bill was tauted as an “ethics reform” measure, but that’s a joke: it was a naked political attack on unions that are fighting to protect the gains made by fire fighters, teachers, and other public employees.
This legislation follows similar laws enacted in Utah and Idaho. In 2009, the Supreme Court upheld Idaho’s “Voluntary Contributions Act,” which also prohibited payroll deductions for political purposes, even though it simultaneously permitted payroll deductions if not conducted by unions (for instance, payroll deductions to virtually any charitable group). Since that 2009 decision, more and more legislatures are targeting dues deductions as a way of penalizing and attacking public employee unions that have succeeded in protecting members’ benefits from politicians.