Imagine for a moment that your boss forcibly docked your paycheck each week in order to contribute to politicians or candidates whom he or she favored, and whom you opposed. Big Unions Continue to Dock Employees’ Wages for Liberal Political Causes

Imagine for a moment that your boss forcibly docked your paycheck each week in order to contribute to politicians or candidates whom he or she favored, and whom you opposed.

Obviously, that would be not only unfair, but illegal. But should it be any different when big labor unions, rather than employers, are the ones doing it?

Unfortunately, it happens every day, despite federal laws prohibiting it. And according to the National Right to Work Foundation (NRWF), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) merely provides the latest illustration.

This month, the NRWF filed a formal complaint with both the Department of Labor and Department of Justice, alleging that the SEIU violated federal law by requiring local members to fund the SEIU’s Political Action Committee. Under a new amendment to the SEIU’s constitution, every local must now contribute $6 per member each year to its central PAC. Further, the SEIU’s national organization will now impose a 50% penalty against locals that fail to satisfy these political fundraising goals.

In other words, play or pay.

Unfortunately for the SEIU, federal labor laws prohibit unions from imposing financial penalties as a method of compelling political contributions. On this basis, the NRWF alleges that the SEIU’s new requirements violate the Federal Election Campaign Act, and justify criminal prosecution by the Justice Department.

More generally, federal law prohibits unions from forcibly docking employees’ paychecks to subsidize union political activities. In 1988, the United States ruled in Communications Workers v. Beck that workers cannot be forced to pay dues steered toward union political causes, or activities beyond what is necessary for straightforward collective bargaining. Accordingly, individual employees are entitled to a refund of any dollars spent by unions on partisan activities, or anything else not directly related to negotiating over terms and conditions of employment.

Unfortunately, everyday reality often betrays these well-established federal laws. For one thing, unions often fail to inform individual employees that they are entitled to a refund of amounts used to fund candidates whom they oppose. Additionally, even when individual union members are aware of their rights, they fear retaliation or are unable to obtain legal assistance to pursue their rights. Furthermore, union bosses often use delay tactics or confusing red tape to stifle individual workers’ efforts to exercise their rights.

Moreover, the Clinton Administration provided an enormous assist to Big Labor by rescinding President George H. W. Bush’s executive order requiring all federal contractors to advise employees of their rights under the Beck decision. Accordingly, unions were relieved of their duty to inform employees that contributions to political activities are wholly voluntary, burdening employees with affirmatively objecting to forced withdrawals.

The result, which surprises many individual employees when they become aware of their rights, is that unions continue to wrench huge amounts of money to donate to liberal politicians and candidates.

For example, SEIU President Andy Stern founded the notorious Americans Coming Together (ACT) alongside George Soros, which raised a staggering $26 million to support John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign.

As another embarrassing example for the SEIU, it forcefully opposed the troop surge that is now winning the war in Iraq, as if that had anything to do with negotiating for better everyday working conditions for its member employees. Even today, the SEIU’s website trumpets the headline “Help Bring Our Troops Home” in its partisan effort “to help end the war in Iraq.” It also advocates for Barack Obama on its homepage, unsurprisingly.

Is this what strapped workers really want? In today’s softening economy and job market, should unions really be wasting their members’ hard-earned wages on such things as anti-war partisanship? Don’t Barack Obama’s enormous campaign coffers show that he is perfectly capable of raising money on his own? Is this what the SEIU means when it claims to be fighting for better working conditions?

Surely not.

Like water pouring downhill, Big Labor continues to find creative new ways to force unwilling members and locals to subsidize liberal candidates. It is therefore important that employees be made aware of their rights, and that organizations like the NRWF are fighting to enforce those rights.

July 31, 2008
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