PJ Media has reported on incidents of workers residing in states without “right-to-work” laws being forced to unionize in order to keep their jobs. In some instances, workers have been forced to unionize simply to care for disabled family members. An additional angle to this story: unions have been misappropriating those dues to skirt laws restricting a union’s ability to spend that money for political purposes.
According to a report released by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), unions spent more than $1.1 billion in dues to finance political and lobbying activities during the 2010 election cycle. In the 27 states which do not have “right-to-work” laws — which prohibit forced unionization — workers are allowed to resign their union membership, but must then pay so-called “agency fees” so that they are not “free riding” on the union members’ collective bargaining. However, federal law prohibits the use of agency fees to support political candidates and causes to which the non-member objects, and requires that portion of their fees to be refunded upon demand.
According to the report, getting that money refunded is extremely difficult:
Many workers are intentionally left unaware of their rights, and in some cases are subjected to a campaign of threats and extortion. Additionally, because unions do not have to submit agency fee determinations to an independent auditor, unions can get around a worker’s Beck right by inaccurately categorizing almost all union expenditures as representational expenses.
The report states that nearly 70 percent of non-union, dues-paying members are unaware they have the right to a refund of the money. Further, unions often obfuscate the workers’ rights in such a way as to make workers think they must join a union in order to gain employment. In a 1998 Supreme Court decision, Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas noted the unions often made the procedure deliberately confusing:
When an employee who is approached regarding union membership expresses reluctance, a union frequently will produce or invoke the collective bargaining agreement. … The employee, unschooled in semantic legal fictions, cannot possibly discern his rights from a document that has been designed by the union to conceal them. In such a context, “member” is not a term of “art” … but one of deception.
The Issa report also claims the Obama administration is not even attempting to keep the unions honest by auditing their books:
Additionally, because the Administration is no longer auditing international union’s books, unions can get around a worker’s Beck rights by inaccurately categorizing almost all union expenditures as representational expenses.
The Beck rights apply only to dues-paying non-members. Members have no say in how their dues are spent, seemingly a violation of their First Amendment rights. Unions spend almost exclusively on Democratic candidates.
The report notes the case of Claire Waits, a teacher and NEA member in Alabama. In 2004, Waits attended an NEA convention as a delegate selected by her state union. Each delegate was given a stipend, funded by regular dues, to cover convention expenses. During the convention, the delegates were asked to contribute part of their stipends to a “children’s fund,” which she did. Waits later discovered this “children’s fund” was in reality a political action committee used to contribute to Democratic candidates — of which union leadership failed to inform members. Waits then attempted to get her money back unsuccessfully.
Four years later, Waits was again selected as a delegate. This time, she was told the donation to the “children’s fund” had already been deducted from her stipend — and made in her name. All of which would appear to be illegal.
Unions appear to have become just another fundraising and campaign organization for the Democratic Party, with party bosses more worried about their perks and influence than the workers they purport to represent.