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Unions Dodge Poison Dart—

Labor Faces
Free-Speech Threat


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The labor movement dodged a poison dart on Feb. 26, when the United States Senate blocked consideration of a bill aimed at curtailing unions’ free speech rights.

Big business Republicans call their legislation the "Payroll Protection Act," but the bill would do nothing to assist union members in protecting their paychecks from over-time repeal, trade deals or unfair taxes. Instead, the so-called Payroll Protection Act would limit the ability of unions to inform, educate and rally members to oppose such attacks on their take-home pay.

The bill would force unions to obtain yearly, written consent from every member of the union before one cent in dues could be spent for "political" purposes — regardless of democratic decision-making within unions that endorsed those policies.

The Senate bill (S 1663), proposed by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R., Miss.) faced a filibuster Republican proponents were ultimately unable to end. The vote to invoke cloture on the gag bill failed 46 to 53. All 44 Democrats present and nine Republicans voted to continue debate, which effectively blocked a vote on the bill itself.


But the battle is far from over.

Two versions of the gag bill have been introduced in the House (HR 1625/HR 2608), with votes expected in late March.

A California ballot initiative would achieve the same result on the state level, and similar efforts are underway in 18 other states. Grover Norquist, an ally of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, says he hopes to have ballot initiatives or state legislation pending in at least 40 states by December in order to silence labor’s political voice.

AFL-CIO Pres. John J. Sweeney characterizes the push for the gag bill as part of a coordinated campaign by right-wing lobbying groups to "silence the voice of working families in the legislative and political process."

Although corporate political contributions are 11 times greater than union spending on politics, a big business coalition is promoting the gag bill on the false claim that unions are attempting to "hijack the American political system."

Among the bills’ backers are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Center for Policy Analysis, a right-wing think tank that promotes anti-worker legislation like "right-to-work" bills, the TEAM Act and privatization of Social Security and opposes raising the minimum wage.

As the UE NEWS went to press, we learned that a document supporting the California ballot initiative signed by Gov. Pete Wilson also contained the signatures of two union proponents, one of them identifying himself as a member of "UE Local 99." This individual and his organization are not affiliated with UE.

Local 99, a Sacramento-based organization of electricians, had been briefly affiliated with UE in the early 1990s. However, the two organization separated by mutual agreement some four years ago; Local 99’s UE charter was revoked by action of the General Executive Board in June 1994.

UE strongly opposes both the federal gag bill and imitations on the state level.

UE News - 03/98

Home -> UE News -> 1998 Archives -> Article

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