High Court to Hear CA Union Organizing Law Challenge

November 21, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.COM) - The nation's high court has agreed to hear a case involving a California law that bars employers from using state funds to keep their workforce union free.

The case comes to the U.S. Supreme Court from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the state law in a 12-3 decision last year, according to a Los Angeles Times news report. Then-Governor Gray Davis signed the union-supported law in 2000.

Despite U.S. Chamber of Commerce arguments that the statute flies in the face of federal labor law that gives unions and management an equal opportunity to talk workers out of, or into, joining a union, the appellate judges said the law did not prevent employers from speaking out against the labor organizations.

Rather, the 9th Circuit asserted, it merely prevented them from using the state’s money in such efforts. Federal labor law does not restrict the “state’s exercise of its sovereign power to control the use of its funds,” the appellate court said.

In papers filed in the effort to seek the U.S. Supreme Court review, lawyers representing the Chamber of Commerce argued that the Golden State law is actually “part of a concerted effort to spur union organizing by silencing anti-union employer speech.”

The Chamber attorneys said the law’s impact would fall most heavily in industries such as health care, where the state subsidizes care for elderly and low-income persons.

U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, who represents the federal government in arguments made before the Supreme Court, weighed in on the side of the Chamber. “California had adopted a policy of coercing certain employers to remain silent in response to union organizing efforts,” he argued in his Supreme Court filing.   

New York and eight other states have enacted similar measures, he said, citing Florida, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio and Rhode Island. Lawmakers in Michigan and New Jersey are considering such measures, he added.

Meanwhile, California Attorney General Jerry Brown said the court should not intervene because it is still not clear how the law would work in practice.

The 9th Circuit ruling is  here .