|Back to October Ed Reporter|
|NUMBER 153||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||OCTOBER 1998|
LANSING, MI - The issue known as "paycheck protection," which means requiring unions to obtain members' permission before withholding money for political activities from their paychecks, has been gathering steam across the country for more than a year. In August, a U.S. District Court upheld the constitutionality of Michigan's limited paycheck protection statute, which requires the annual written consent of union members for PAC deductions from their paychecks.
Since its enactment in 1994, the Michigan law had been blocked by a legal challenge filed by the AFL-CIO and the Michigan Education Association. The district court's ruling upholds a previous decision by Michigan's 6th Circuit Court, which rejected the unions' argument that obtaining consent from union mem- bers for PAC deductions would create an unconstitutional burden.
The 6th Circuit Court noted: "Labor unions surely maintain some sort of records on their members already, and requiring the unions to make space in their files or databases for the inclusion of one or more pieces of information seems minimal - certainly a burden insufficient to rise to the level of a constitutional violation." The court also rejected the union's claim that asking for written permission violated their members' right of free speech, ruling that this argument "bordered on the frivolous."
Oregon citizens will vote next month on a paycheck protection initiative known as Measure 59, which will prohibit public sector payroll deductions for politics entirely.
According to its sponsor, Oregon Taxpayers United (OTU), "If union members want to contribute, they will be required to write a check. That means the unions will not even be able to coerce employees into signing permission slips."
Observers note that the Oregon initiative differs from California's failed Proposition 226 in several ways. Since it does not affect private sector unions as did California's initiative, the measure is not
expected to attract as much national private sector union money. (Oregon's major union political activity is in the public sector.) Because Measure 59 is one of many initiatives on Oregon's November ballot, the unions may have more difficulty singling it out and creating confusion about it among voters. Furthermore, the fact that the vote will come in a general election is expected to dilute the unions' efforts to affect turnout.
Following the defeat of Proposition 226 last June, Washington-based Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) President Grover Norquist stated that publicity surrounding the campaign brought the issue of paycheck protection into the national limelight.
"The unions ran a $27 million campaign of confusion and deceit, spending their own members' money without permission," Norquist said. "Labor union bosses narrowly won a single initiative election, one time in one state, while the supporters of workers' rights and paycheck protection won an educational campaign with the public in the entire nation. Polling data indicate that Americans now favor paycheck protection to the tune of 70% to 80%."
Besides Michigan, the states of Washington, Idaho and Wyoming currently have paycheck protection laws on the books. Washington voters approved an initiative in 1992, and the Idaho and Wyoming legislatures passed similar bills in 1997 and 1998 respectively.
Last year, the Washington Education Association (WEA), state affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA), was caught spending union members' mandatory deductions on politics in violation of the 1992 law (See Education Reporter, December 1997). State Attorney General Christine Gregoire responded by filing suit against the WEA, and later settled out of court. The Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a Washington-based public policy institute, initiated a second suit against the WEA and the NEA. That case is still pending.
Primarily due to the California initiative, awareness of the paycheck protection issue has come a long way. ATR's Norquist states that, a year ago, most Americans did not realize that labor union leaders are able to withhold funds from union members' paychecks without the workers' permission. "It amounts to a lot of money - 16 million union members nationwide pay an average of $500 in dues, which brings in $8 billion annually - much of it spent on politics."
The paycheck protection movement has been prompted by the failure of the Clinton Administration's National Labor Relations Board and the U.S. Dept. of Labor to enforce the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Communication Workers of America v. Beck. That decision gave workers the right to retain any portion of their mandatory union dues that is not spent on collective bargaining, but until recently, 78% of union workers were unaware of this right. In 1992, then-President George Bush issued an executive order requiring government contractors to post notices informing employees about the Beck decision. One of Bill Clinton's first acts as President was to repeal Bush's order.
Paycheck protection legislation is expected to move through the legislatures of 26 states in 1999.