High court to consider Calif. law on union organizing

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court intervened today in a dispute between organized labor and management, agreeing to decide the validity of a state law that limits employers' ability to weigh in on union organizing.

The case accepted by the justices comes from California, where a law passed in 2000 prohibits employers from using money they receive from the state to oppose or support unionization efforts.

The law, passed by the Democratic-led state legislature and signed by then-Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals over the objection of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business interests. Those groups argued that federal labor law guarantees the free-speech rights of employers and trumps state regulations in this area.

If the law is allowed to stand, the chamber said labor unions would seek to pass similar measures in other states and would gain an advantage over management in the fight to bolster union membership.

The Bush administration backed the business groups in calling for the Court to take the case.

"California has adopted a policy of coercing certain employers to remain silent in response to union organizing efforts," the administration said. The law at issue "regulates employer speech that Congress intended to leave unregulated."

Defending the law, the state said employers remain free to advocate vigorously against organizing campaigns. The only restriction the law imposes is that those businesses may not use money received from the state for that purpose.

Last term, the Supreme Court ruled against unions in a pair of Washington cases, Davenport v. Washington Education Association and Washington v. Washington Education Association. The justices upheld a state law that limits public-employee unions' use of fees paid by state workers who decline to join the union.

Arguments will be heard early next year in the California case, Chamber of Commerce v. Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Attorney General of California, 06-939.