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  • Don't Mess with Texans' Paychecks

    Union members in Massachusetts support Senator Scott Brown (R). So it is perhaps surprising to see Massachusetts unions announcing their plans to target him for defeat. Or perhaps not.

    Union bosses, not union members, decide how to spend union dues. Union bosses oppose Brown’s efforts to cut government spending. So they are going to go after him—whether or not their members want their dues spent that way.

    This is a national problem. Union members pay 1–2 percent of their salaries in annual dues but have little say over how that money gets spent. Often it gets spent on political campaigning. Three of the top five outside spenders in the midterm elections were unions. Despite the fact that many union members are conservative, almost all of this money goes to elect liberals.

    Many union members object to this. Polling shows that 60 percent of union members oppose having their dues spent so heavily on politics. Two-thirds of union members believe that unions should have to get their members’ permission to spend their dues on politics.

    The Supreme Court has ruled that unions cannot constitutionally force workers to financially support candidates they oppose. However, unions erect bureaucratic roadblocks to prevent workers from exercising this right. They implement obstacles that make it difficult for workers to formally request a refund of their dues—such as accepting such requests only 30 days out of the year. Often unions refuse to honor those requests unless workers file charges with the National Labor Relations Board. In practice, union members have little control over how their money gets spent.

    In recent years Utah and Idaho, among other states, have passed “paycheck protection” laws to fix this problem. Instead of requiring workers to navigate a bureaucratic minefield to opt out, these laws require unions to get their members’ permission before spending their money on politics.

    These laws show how little union leaders reflect their members’ priorities. Union political spending drops 40 to 50 percent once states pass paycheck protection laws. This shows that, if given the choice, many union members would rather keep their money than give it to politicians.

    More states are giving workers this choice. Just today the Florida State House of Representatives voted for a paycheck protection bill.  The Kansas House recently passed a paycheck protection law, and the Kansas Senate will vote on it next year. Now America’s second-largest state may follow suit. Texas state Representative Tan Parker recently introduced paycheck protection legislation.

    Parker’s bill would go a long way toward giving Texas union members more control over their money. The bill:

    • Requires unions in Texas to set up a segregated fund for political spending. Any direct or indirect union political spending would have to come from this fund, not general union finances.
    • Gives union members the choice of whether or not to contribute to the union political fund.
    • Protects union members from retaliation if they decide not to make political donations.
    • Prevents the government from using its payroll system to collect payments for the political fund.
    • Increases transparency and accountability by requiring unions to show their members how they spend their money. (Many government unions do not have to do this.)

    The proposal isn’t perfect. Unions have responded to some paycheck protection laws by essentially laundering their political spending. After Washington State voters passed a paycheck protection law in 1992, the Washington teachers union started sending members’ mandatory dues to the Community Outreach Program (COP), from which teachers did not have the choice of opting out. The COP then spent millions of dollars of teachers’ dues on political causes, effectively sidestepping the law. Stronger language defining “indirect spending” could prevent unions from exploiting such loopholes.

    Nonetheless, this legislation would be a great step forward to empower rank-and-file union members. More states should follow suit. Paycheck protection laws let union members choose if and how much to give to politicians. Individual union members, not union bosses, would control their own money. In America, that is how it ought to be.

    Posted in Economics [slideshow_deploy]

    4 Responses to Don't Mess with Texans' Paychecks

    1. Stirling, Pennsylvan says:

      The Union Bosses are exposing themselves to collapsing their money scheme. It's a clear case of they have "over-reached" and now it's comming back to bite them in the arse. My hope is that the choice is given back to the members who the choice really should be put. This will make the individual more in control fix a lot of the corruption that has plagued our political system. If the democratic party actually has to work for their money they will not have the power they currently do.

    2. West Texan says:

      Stirling said "The Union Bosses … corruption that has plagued our political system. If the democratic party actually has to work for their money they will not have the power they currently do."

      I couldn't agree more.


      West Texan

    3. Nancy, Washington st says:

      What's equally sad is these unions spent millions on politics and now some these funds have a liquidity problem. Had they kept the funds for its' original purpose, there likely wouldn't be this problem now. This coupled with the high unemployment rate, they're in the same position as Social Security – not enough coming in to pay for what's going out.

    4. Ex-IBEW member, Utah says:

      In the interest of fairness, I do not want the government meddling in the affairs of my union any more than I want it controlling how I personally contribute to my favorite candidate. For a conservative state assembly to apply campaign financing restrictions on a union, simply provides validity for a liberal state assembly to retaliate in turn against a business or political association. The United States Supreme Court recently opened the campaign finance floodgates. So be it—the same rules should apply for all.

      While I believe that employees have just as valid a right to assemble as businessmen have a right to incorporate, I do not see a need for government do more than referee the inevitable conflicts. I support the concept of a truly “Open Shop”. Where, if I don’t agree with my union and am unable to convince it to change a policy or practice from within, I can vote with my feet and keep my job. True, I may be required to endure some flak from my co-workers and their union reps while forfeiting the benefits of membership, but that’s life, and the price of freedom.

      When a union is forced to compete for acceptance and support in an open marketplace, it should be allowed to live or die freely on the basis of the relevance and worth it provides to its members. No governmental meddling required.

      P.S.: You public sector unions need not concern yourselves. Notice I base my argument on the word competition. You have no competition and your members are not employees of the people, but are in the service of the people. On these points alone, are you therefore invalid. May you be summarily banished at the discretion of the frugal taxpayer and his elected representatives.

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