Two years ago, paycheck protection bills were filed but did not make it through the 2011 Florida Legislative Session. However, the debate concerning the issue shed light on a practice used by unions across the nation and in Florida to withdraw a portion of unionized employees’ income to support politicians and political agendas that may not reflect the views of the employees themselves.
The latest policy brief from The James Madison Institute (JMI), “Safeguarding Employees’ First Amendment Rights through Paycheck Protection” reminds Floridians, and lawmakers preparing for the 2013 Legislative Session, that unionized employees, especially those who have dues automatically withdrawn from their paychecks, deserve to have ample opportunity to choose how their money is spent.
“Although Florida is a right-to-work state, a dilemma still exists for many workers where a union has an industry presence,” said Dr. J. Robert McClure, JMI president and CEO. “These Floridians have to choose between joining a union and paying dues that can be used to fund a political agenda that the employee may disagree with, or not join and lose out on participating in the affairs of the union that will represent them regardless of their membership status. It’s a tough situation, but paycheck protection laws can at least work to help employees utilize their right to choose, making it easier for them to control the use of their hard-earned dollars.”
A July 2012 report from the Wall Street Journal cited in JMI’s policy brief states that organized labor spends about four times as much on politics and lobbying as the public realizes. The report broke down unions’ political spending from 2005 to 2011 where $1.1 billion was used to support federal candidates through their political-action committees and lobbying Washington. Add to that another $3.3 billion spent on polling, member education, and other political efforts.
“Research shows that the majority of unionized employees, when given a choice, would refuse to finance their union’s political agenda,” said Michael Reitz, Esq., JMI adjunct scholar, author of the brief and executive vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “We’ve outlined several examples of the results of these reforms, including in Utah where a comprehensive paycheck protection law was adopted, and after the first full year of implementation, the Utah Education Association saw a 90 percent drop in voluntary contributions from its members.”
Several policy recommendations were outlined in the brief to help guide reform discussions in the Florida Legislature:
- Protect union members by requiring unions to seek their members’ consent before collecting money for political activity.
- Remove state and local governments from the business of collecting political dues by prohibiting government payroll deductions for political candidates and committees.
- Promote the First Amendment interests of employees and transparent practices by requiring unions to segregate political spending.
- Ensure that all union political spending is supported by voluntary participation by prohibiting general fund transfers into political accounts.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of several paycheck protection reforms in recent years and seems to be changing its tune on the ‘opt out’ policy of old, putting the onus on the union to confirm the employees’ desires for their dues,” said Robert Sanchez, JMI director of policy. “In fact, just this year in Knox v. Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the court ruled that SEIU acted improperly by presuming that all workers represented would consent to a special assessment on workers in California to fight ballot measures promoted by Gov. Schwarzenegger including, ironically, a paycheck protection initiative.”