One hundred years ago a socialite and organizer by the name of Roger Baldwin made the journey from New York City to Logan, West Virginia. He came, in the aftermath of the Battle of Blair Mountain, to deliver a speech expressing his support for the miners’ First Amendment freedom of association – their right to organize a union.
Prior to this, Baldwin and his organization had primarily been involved in defending conscientious objectors who had refused to fight in the First World War. This was one of Baldwin’s – and his fledgling organization’s -- first forays into other policy areas. His organization, by the way, was the American Civil Liberties Union.
In the century that followed, the ACLU has been a strong supporter of unions and their right to organize, collectively bargain, and to engage in political activities.
How sad and ironic it is to see that the state where so many lost life and shed blood for these rights – the state that helped birth the labor movement – a state where unions played such a pivotal role in shaping the lives of so many, that we would find ourselves once again fighting these battles.
House Bill 2009 would make union members jump through significant hoops to financially support their union in making political expenditures. It is true that, in a very technical sense, the bill does not only apply to unions. But in a practice, that’s who this bill is targeting and that is who this bill will hurt.
HB 2009 places regulations on political donations deducted from wages. As such, the bill only restricts the political activities of one group -- workers.
HB 2009 does not place any requirement that shareholders in corporations provide express written permission before the corporation uses any of their investment for political activities. It does not require partners in a profit-making enterprise to annually fill out a form prescribed by the Secretary of State authorizing their partnership to expend funds intended to influence the voting in an election. HB 2009 does not require universities to get the express written permission of students prior to expending tuition money on political activities. It does not force the Chamber of Commerce, or the NRA, or the Ku Klux Klan, or the ACLU to get the express written permission of their members prior to expending their dues on political activities.
No HB 2009 only applies to wage earners. Working people.
We think that this bill’s application to only one category of speakers – workers -- raises First Amendment concerns. Under Citizens United v. FEC, any law that regulates political speech based on the identity of the speaker is presumptively unconstitutional. The legislature should not be placing restrictions on the political activities of workers of a company that are not placed on the shareholders that same company.
We all know that this regulation is aimed at labor unions. Labor unions are unquestionably the most well-resourced, recognized voice of the American working class. By creating new administrative hoops for workers to fund union political activities, HB 2009 inhibits the dissemination of working-class views and solutions to the major questions of the day. Ultimately, by effect or design, these restrictions shamefully inhibit working people from becoming full participants in the body politic.
This is a direct assault on the dual First Amendment freedoms of association and speech that the ACLU has fought side-by-side with labor for almost 100 years. And as we have done so many times in the past, we stand in solidarity with labor to oppose this law.