By Walt Wojcik
The celebration of the defeat of California's Proposition 226 has been
tempered by the continuing nationwide assault on workers rights to engage in the
political process. Business, conservative and other anti-worker interests have embarked on
a state-by-state and federal campaign to restrict or eliminate the ability of unions to
use union funds for charity, voter registration, legislation, referenda, governmental
policy and other public issues, political parties and candidates.
Bills, initiatives, and referenda have been introduced in over half the
states and in the U.S. Congress in the past several months. These attacks have been
euphemistically named "payroll protection acts," "workplace fairness
actions," or "campaign finance reform bills." In reality, the legislation
seeks to further restrict working peoples access to the political process.
WHY THE ATTACK ON WORKERS?
Working Americans, through their unions, have helped to win many important
political and social victories throughout this century. Union dues have contributed to the
fight for a 40-hour week and the eight-hour day, Social Security, child labor laws, equal
job, housing and education opportunities, job safety laws, the minimum wage, time off to
care for sick family members and new babies, and protections for Medicare, education and
While corporate interests outspent unions by an 11 to one ratio during the
1996 election year, the political victories counted by unions in the past several years
have been impressive. These accomplishments, such as the defeat of "Fast Track,"
have triggered the Republican backlash against union members political
WHO IS BEHIND THE ATTACK?
The ultraconservative Heritage Institute has suggested that the movement
behind these "payroll deception" bills are "grassroots" in nature.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of the usual anti-labor gang have supported
the most recent unionbusting efforts. Key supporters of this movement are the American
Legislative Exchange Council, Americans for Tax Reform, GOPAC, Golden Rule Insurance
Company, big business groups, and the National Center for Policy Analysis. These
organizations have also typically supported such anti-worker legislation as the so-called
TEAM Act, efforts to eliminate the minimum wage, and efforts to restrict Medicare and
privatize Social Security.
WHAT WOULD IT DO?
While the proposals in the various states and in Congress have varied, a
predominant theme in all of the legislation is the requirement that unions obtain prior
consent, on an annual basis, from every member and agency fee payer to use dues and fees
in support of political and charitable action. Such a "system" would create an
onerous administrative and accounting burden for union locals and employers, effectively
precluding any political activities by working Americans through their unions.
Payroll protection would place the burden on the vast majority of union
members who support the endeavors of national lobbying on behalf of all workers. Many
bills would also criminalize the violation of its terms.
Only a fraction of nearly any unions expenditures are actually used
for "political action." Dues and fees, especially in UE, are primarily used for
the direct benefit of members. Dues dollars pay for arbitration, legal assistance,
research for contract issues, education and training for local officers and members and
organizing the unorganized and establishing new locals, among countless other activities.
The fraction of those dollars that are used to support political action are primarily used
to analyze, support or oppose legislation which may impact the UE membership.
UE members have a direct impact on how their dues are spent. UE is a rank
and file union the members control the actions of the union. Through the election
of local officers and union representatives and participation in local, district, and
national meetings, the members control the expenditure of dues dollars. Union members
obviously have a much greater control over the expenditures of their dues than taxpayers
do over their tax dollars.
(Non-members may decide to opt out of the payment of the very small
fraction of their service fees which do not pay for "representational
WHERE ARE THESE GAG BILLS?
The number of bills, initiatives, and referenda are numerous. More than
half of the states and the U.S. Congress have seen "payroll protection" proposed
in some form. The differences between the proposals are as numerous as the proposals
themselves. Currently, the only UE states which are directly threatened by "payroll
deception acts" are Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Other actions have been defeated
or are currently dormant. The Massachusetts House Bill would seek to restrict the use of
dues collected by any union whose membership includes public employees. Even more
draconian, Pennsylvania House Bill 1968 would preclude employers from making any payroll
deduction that would be used for political purposes barring even voluntary employee
While the most serious attacks have been defeated, it is expected that the
next political year will bring a new series of similar challenges.
(Walt Wojcik is an attorney in the UE Legal Dept.)