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Front Page



· The Future of Unions and America

· Media Bias and Union Politics– article from 1984

· Current Observations on past Union commentaries 


The media bias in reporting past curtailment of

Union campaign spending of members dues by the Supreme Court.

Ellis vs. Railway Clerks

Column  from the Morning Sun, 5/23/84


By Ivan W. Parkins


Unions have collected millions of dollars from non-members in agency shops and have spent much of that money for political purposes, in violation of the rights of non-members. 


Furthermore, the treasuries of the unions which engaged in such unlawful transaction are now liable for damage claims.  Finally, the money available to unions for expenditure in future elections is likely to be significantly reduced.


The above conclusions are my own, but all are implied by the opinion of the United States Supreme Court in ELLIS vs. RAILWAY CLERKS.


Apparently, that opinion was not worthy of much mention as news.  Inasmuch as I am a party to a similar case (Central Michigan University Faculty Association versus Stengren et. al.) and a rather close observer of the news media, I was expecting the announcement of the opinion.  I missed it in the news, and did not learn of it until I received a letter from my lawyer more than two weeks later.


Even then, I could not find the Ellis Case in the Detroit News of April 26.  The Detroit Free Press mentioned it at the end of a story about the Supreme Court’s ruling in a racial bias matter.  The New York Times and Washington Post gave it substantial space in B and C sections respectively.  Only the Wall Street Journal took front page notice and gave substantial coverage to the Ellis opinion.


So much for the little story, let’s go to the big one.  On May 14 a U.S. district court judge ordered the Department of Justice to seek appointment of a special prosecutor to pursue further the question of how certain 1980 Carter campaign documents ended up in the hands of the Reagan organization.  Apparently, that was an important decision.  I heard it mentioned repeatedly on television news programs for the next twenty-four hours.


The next morning, the district judge’s order provided the lead story in the Detroit Free Press, and it received more than twenty column inches of page 2 in the Detroit News.  Even the Wall Street Journal gave it slightly more prominent treatment than it had given to the Ellis case.


Why, was the Carter briefing papers decision such a big story and the opinion in the Ellis case such a small one?  This goes to the heart of criticism of our communications media.  Let me begin my answer by saying that I noted no significant untruths or inaccuracies in the report of any of the media which I examined.


The Ellis decision was subscribed to by all nine members of the highest court of the land.  Justices Brennan and Marshall, the most liberal members, joined in the opinion.  Only Justice Powell made a partial dissent, and he wanted to limit union spending more severely than his colleagues had done.

Concerning the Carter briefing papers, Judge Harold Greene handed down a one-man order in a case where even the jurisdiction of his court is uncertain, and his decision is subject to review at two higher levels.  Certainly it was not the level of finality of the respective court decisions that made the Carter briefing papers matter more significant than the Ellis decision.


Of course, the Carter briefing papers involve likely chicanery and, possibly, some violation of law in a recent presidential election.  But the Ellis case involved actual collections and expenditures in violation of the constitutional rights of numerous Americans.  Furthermore, similar violations have been present in nearly all major elections at every level of government.  And, the amount of money involved, though it is not yet calculated, will certainly total millions of dollars.


Whatever the facts in the briefing papers matter, it is unlikely that they could have affected the outcome of the 1980 presidential election, and that election is now moot.  The kind of unlawful expenditure banned by the Ellis decision may have affected some close elections, and it will continue in 1984 and afterward until publicity and further litigation make the Ellis decision effective.


I think of no reason, other than bias, which prevails among major journalists, why a district court judge’s order regarding the briefing papers was more noteworthy than the unanimous opinion of the Supreme Court in the Ellis case.




A reprint from May of 2010

By Ivan W. Parkins


The past of American labor unions is mixed. No doubt they contributed to the demand for public health, safety and welfare advances of the past.  There is also plentiful evidence of unions being involved in corruption and violence, both as victims and aggressors.  None of that can be undone; nor should it be either emphasized or hidden.


The future of labor unions is dim; what is mainly at stake is the future of America.  It is no accident that President Obama’s health and tax proposals have run into problems concerning some union people.  Obama has emphasized “soaking the rich,” and by the standards of much of the public (me included), a considerable number of union people are rich.  And many Americans wonder how that can be when they are not entertainment celebrities, corporate executives, bankers, or highly skilled professionals.  Much of that mystery has to do with politics and the financing of politicians


The industrial history of America provides several examples of major industries that have become especially centralized and profitable; they have also yielded to unions long-term contracts regarding pay and benefits, especially retirement.  But, as competition and new alternatives to their products appeared those industries have struggled or failed to fulfill their contracts with laborers.  That is much of the story with railroads, steel, and automobiles.  Foreign competition has been one factor, but new and better technologies are probably a larger one. In a world characterized by increasing foreign trade and technological advancement, unions are losing ground in most private employment. And,  they seek government’s help in resisting change.


In the 1980s Smith-Corona became dominant in typewriters and related office machines.  In the 1990s they declared bankruptcy.  The day of computers had dawned.


When I studied public administration in the late 1940s, the common explanation was that, while government employees usually got more security and fringe benefits, private employment of the same kind usually paid better.  Thanks especially to President Kennedy, we now have more unions among government workers.  And now they get more pay as well as other benefits.  It is a significant part of our financial crisis.


Now, government and unions, both averse to competition, can make a perfect pair, if most Americans will just be quiet and pay their higher taxes.

On my previous


Regarding Unions


By Ivan W. Parkins


Thomas Jefferson’s old argument against state churches was resurrected in our top court as the Ellis case was decided.  It is that to force a person to pay for the promotion some idea in which he does not believe is even worse than denying him the right to speak freely.  How would you feel if the Supreme Court were to hold that your constitutional rights were being violated at a cost to you of several hundred dollars a year?


Soon after the Ellis case was decided, about a quarter of a century ago, I recovered over one thousand dollars in an out of court settlement.  But, with near silence in the media, plentiful union obstruction, Democrat actions in legislatures and the National Labor Relations Board, etc. the problem remains.  President G.H.W. Bush issued an executive order that employers post notices to employees of their rights in this regard.  One of President Clinton’s first official acts was to have those taken down.


The immediate applications of the Ellis decision were limited to railways, from which the case had originated.  But, in 1988 a majority, 7-2, of the Supreme Court repeated the essential holding of Ellis in Beck vs. Communication Workers.  (Wikipedia)


All of the above is essentially historical background.  I was seriously in error regarding the likely effects of a unanimous Supreme Court decision in what appeared to be a case of individual rights.  It quickly became a matter of politics, media neglect, and one over which the National Labor Relations Board had primary jurisdiction.


Goes to the Supreme Court

By Ivan W. Parkins

Two cases from the 1980s, both of which seemed to have forecast victory for a complaint such as that of Knox, should figure heavily in this matter.  Both of them seemed to forecast more concern for individual liberties than has been demonstrated since.


In Ellis vs. Railway Clerks the Court’s judgment was 9-0; in Beck vs. Communication Workers it was 7-2.  Both seemed to treat the rights of workers who did not join the union where they worked as constitutionally important.  The mere appearance of another case involving somewhat similar facts seems to imply that those two earlier cases have had little effect upon how rights of non-union workers have ranked among America’s treasures.