Court limits union power over workers

The rights of individual workers won out over union solidarity in the US Supreme Court Thursday. But it was a slim victory.

By a 5-to-4 vote, the justices held that labor groups may not prevent their members from resigning during a strike. By so doing, the court upheld a Na- tional Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that barred a Midwest union from disciplining members who quit during a 1977 strike.

Writing for the majority, Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell said the NLRB ``was justified in concluding that restricting the right of employees to resign impairs the policy of voluntary unionism.'' Justice Powell added that nothing in the history of federal labor law would dictate a different outcome.

In a dissenting opinion, however, Associate Justice Harry A. Blackmun said Thursday's ruling ``improperly restricts a union's federally protected right to make and enforce its own rules and [threatens] the balance of power between labor and management.''

The case stems from the resignation from the union of 11 members of the Pattern Makers' League of North America during a walkout. When these members went back to work, the union imposed fines against 10 of them and expelled another.

The NLRB ruled that this action constituted a violation of federal law, which prohibits unions from forcing workers to take part in collective-bargain- ing activities.

Two federal appeals courts took opposing positions on the case. The split set the stage for Supreme Court resolution.

There is concern that Wednesday's decision could lead to serious erosion of union power at a time when declining memberships and contract concessions caused by economic hard times have already weakened labor's clout.

The House of Representatives agreed Wednesday night to permit a program of random polygraph tests for Pentagon employees who handle top-secret information. In a 333-to-71 vote, the House passed the measure in response to the arrest of the four men in the alleged Walker spy ring with selling Navy secrets to the Soviet Union. The House also agreed Wednesday night to allow US military forces to aid in drug enforcement searches, seizures, and arrests outside the US. The amendment would allow a Navy ship, for example, to stop a boat it suspected of carrying drug smugglers.

Congressional opponents argued that the military should have no role in civilian law enforcement.

The speaker of Iran's parliament, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, arrived in Peking Thursday, and diplomats said the discussion would probably include a possible arms purchase from China. Mr. Rafsanjani, accompanied by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Vellayati, is the first top Iranian leader to visit China since the Iranian revolution in 1979.

A Western diplomat said China also wanted good relations with Iran in the hope of winning large export orders, especially for labor and construction projects, once the war between Iran and Iraq ends.

The Republican National Committee opened a three-day strategy meeting yesterday, focusing on the 1986 Senate elections. The GOP controls the Senate, but 22 Republican senators are up for reelection next year. Georgia state Republican officials say they will try to win converts from among the South's Democrats. Committee members got the red-carpet treatment from civic leaders -- including some of the state's top Democrats -- who want the 1988 Republican National Convention to be held in Atlanta.

The Agriculture Department will lower milk price supports 50 cents July 1 because of a surge in surplus dairy production, Agriculture Secretary John R. Block announced Wednesday. Secretary Block later criticized a House dairy subcommittee's endorsement of an industry-supported bill that would restore a program that paid farmers not to produce milk. He said he will recommend a presidential veto if the measure passes Congress.

The Sandinista government publicly announced Wednesday that it would unilaterally create a demilitarized zone along its southern border with Costa Rica. The Nicaraguan withdrawal, however, will not affect the presence of anti-Sandinista ``contras'' who are operating along the border area. Thus, possible new confrontations along the border would occur without a stabilizing force.

Earlier this month Nicaragua had proposed that Costa Rica withdraw its Civil Guard from the border while Nicaragua simultaneously removed its troops. Costa Rica rejected the proposal.

Nineteen former leftist leaders appeared in Grenada's High Court Thursday, accused of murdering Prime Minister Maurice Bishop in an October 1983 coup that led to the US invasion of the island. The defendants include former Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard, his wife, Phyllis, and former Army commander Hudson Austin. They are accused of murdering seven other officials during the coup. Grenada was ruled by a military council, led by Mr. Austin, until the US-led invasion a week later.

Svetlana Ogorodnikova and her husband, Nikolay Ogorodnikov, entered guilty pleas Wednesday in the case of conspiring to commit espionage. Mrs. Ogorodnikov told the US district judge that the co-defendant in the trial, former FBI agent Richard W. Miller, was a willing participant in the spy plot and offered to sell the Soviet 'emigr'e couple ``whatever they wanted.''

The World Bank unveiled a joint venture Wednesday between the Chinese and France's Peugeot auto producer which is to include a stock offering to local Chinese. The World Bank's International Finance Corporation said the $79.5 million venture near Guangzhou (Canton), in southern China, would produce 15,000 pickup trucks a year. Chinese authorities have agreed that within two years of the start-up of operations they will offer shares amounting to 10 percent of the equity of the enterprise to the Chinese public, with preference for workers at the auto plant.

The State Department, in a reply to Mikhail Gorbachev, accused the Soviet leader Thursday of distortion and a thinly veiled threat to suspend negotiations to reduce nuclear weapons. Mr. Gorbachev said on Wednesday the Soviets would reassess their participation in the talks in Geneva if the US continued ``marking time.'' It was the strongest warning to date that the talks could collapse over the President Reagan's ``star wars'' program. Despite sharp language, however, spokesman Edward P. Djerejian said the desire on both sides to have a meeting between Mr. Reagan and Gorbachev had not ebbed.

Republican National Committee chairman Frank Fahrenkopf braved boos at the NAACP national convention to plead for black converts, saying the black voters should not continue to align themselves with one party. He asked why black Americans ``isolated themselves'' in the November presidential election in supporting a Democratic ticket that was ``out of step'' with the ``overwhelming majority of Americans.''

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