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High Court weighs anti-union fund fight

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KAI RYSSDAL: It was guns in the Supreme Court today — the biggest Second Amendment case in 70 years was on the docket. Tomorrow, it’s going to be money. The justices will hear a challenge to a California law that prevents employers from spending public funds on anti-union activities. Nine other states, including New York and Ohio, have similar statutes.

From Washington, Marketplace’s John Dimsdale has our preview.

John Dimsdale: The Bush administration has joined national business groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in challenging California’s restrictions on using state money to fight union organizing. Attorney Mike Carvin, representing the Chamber, says the state ban directly contradicts national policy.

Mike Carvin: Federal law makes it clear they not only allow employers to engage in that kind of speech, they want them to engage in that kind of speech — because it’s of great benefit to the employees on making an informed decision about whether or not to join a union.

The ban affects only companies that do business with states and collect taxpayer money. That’s mainly health care providers — hospitals and nursing homes — that rely heavily on income from state Medicaid payments. Jeffrey Sherrin represents health care companies that are challenging New York’s law.

Jeffrey Sherrin: The freedom to organize is written into federal and state law. But so is the freedom to oppose it. If what you’re doing is tying the hands of just one side, that puts the unions at a very substantial advantage.

But the attorney for the AFL-CIO, Scott Kronland, says this isn’t about free speech.

Scott Kronland: Employers are perfectly free to try to influence their employees about whether to unionize. They just can’t use the state’s money to do that. They have to use their own money.

A U.S. appeals court upheld the state law last year. But the Supreme Court voted to hear the business challenge. A ruling is expected in late June.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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