Published Thursday, July 26, 2012
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month organized labor spends about four times as much on politics as generally thought — about $4.4 billion between 2005 and 2011. Nearly all of it went to support politicians who routinely vote to drown Americans — including workers — in taxes, regulations, debt and wasteful spending.
But what union members get with the dollars their unions spend on politics is a minor indiscretion compared to the sin of how union bosses get much of that money in the first place. I’m referring, of course, to compulsory dues.
Unionized workers pay dues for their unions’ collective-bargaining activities, but they are not required to financially support the political or ideological causes of Big Labor bosses. In fact, workers are actually entitled to a refund of their dues used for purposes unrelated to collective bargaining, contract administration or grievance processing, according to the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Communication Workers of America v. Beck.
In that celebrated case, it was determined the union had been using as much as 79 percent of Harry Beck’s dues for partisan politics — and almost all of it on behalf of one particular political party. Nearly 25 years later, state and federal governments have done almost nothing to enforce the Beck decision.
Peer pressure and veiled threats from the top discourage the informed few from even attempting to exercise their Beck rights. When union members have actually challenged their union leadership to honor the decision, union leaders routinely stonewall, falsify the numbers and force disgruntled workers to spend large sums of money to litigate the issue.
In 1992 in the state of Washington, 72 percent of that state’s voters approved a ballot initiative requiring teachers unions to secure written permission from each worker before deducting political-action assessments from his paycheck.
What happened afterwards was astonishing. The number of teachers contributing to their unions’ political-action committees plummeted from over 45,000 to just 8,000. And the number of state workers making such a contribution — over 40,000 before the change — evaporated to a microscopic 82. That’s not a typo. No wonder unions everywhere are scared stiff that Beck rights might be enforced someday.
The same sort of thing has happened in Wisconsin since Gov. Scott Walker’s reforms kicked in more than a year ago. Membership in AFSCME, the government employee union, has fallen by more than half since early 2011. Now that the union has to rely on its members’ approval to spend their money on politics, few of those members are giving the union so much as a nickel.
Thomas Jefferson was right on the money when he said 200 years ago, “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” In a free society, no union — indeed, no company or organization of any kind — should ever be allowed to force anyone to pay for its political spending.
(Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, N. Y., and Atlanta.)