Union money, the PACs, and union dues

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PART 1: FOLLOW THE UNION MONEY

By ART CHANCE

Money: Unions have lots of it, and it comes in two basic forms, plus a third for some unions. Some of the money they even acquire and use legally.

First the generally legal money: Unions have political action committees (PACs) that raise unrestricted “hard” money that they can legally spend on direct political contributions to campaigns.

The predicate of a legal PAC is a voluntary contribution to that PAC.

Many union PAC authorizations are of questionable legality, as they are often combined with dues deduction authorizations, and unions are wont to at least insinuate that employees or members must make the contribution to keep their jobs.

Even with the pressure, only a small minority of State employees authorize the PAC contribution. Teachers unions have the reputation of both confusing employees about their rights and pressuring those same employees.

The state of the law is somewhat different with private sector unions but they all have PACs, and the AFL-CIO and the NEA have over-arching national PACs as well. There is a serious question as to whether public employers can legally withhold a PAC contribution and transmit it to the union or the PAC.

First, any coercion from the employer to authorize the contribution violates several statutes. I don’t believe that any employer representative should even hand out the PAC or dues authorization forms, but most employers take the path of least resistance and have their human resource staff do it.

The reality is that if the employees were forced to actually go to the union hall to sign up, many, probably most, wouldn’t. The employer would be faced with having to enforce the union’s “compelled-dues” clause all the time; not worth the bother to most.   And when you consider that almost all the states with unionized public employees or a heavily unionized private workforce are irredeemably Democrat, there really isn’t much interest in whether the money collection is legal.

The biggest source of union money is dues, and most dues are compelled as a condition of continuing employment. Funny thing: Not many employees will voluntarily pay dues – 20-30% at most. Compelled dues are a creature of statute; the Federal Labor-Management Relations Act for private sector employees, Federal law and Executive Orders for Federal employees, and state and local laws for public employees.

Compelled dues have been upheld as Constitutional by the US Supreme Court and state supreme courts where the question has been put, including Alaska. Like most questions put to a court, the answer depends on how the question is asked, so I believe there is room for a challenge in Alaska based on the constitutional requirement that the State maintain a “merit system” of employment. It is a question whether payment of dues is a measure of merit.

It is black-letter law that use of compelled dues for the “social, political, or fraternal” activities of a union is illegal if the employee objects to such use.

Few employees realize this; few employers make any attempt to notify employees of their right to object.

Even if the employee(s) object, the game is rigged against them. Unions offer a small deduction, a few percent, usually in the single digits, from full dues for objectors, called an “agency fee,” which is supposed to represent the cost of actual collective bargaining activity such as negotiating contracts and pursuing grievances as well as very limited lobbying.

When the Evergreen Foundation sued the Washington Education Association over chargeable costs, the WEA could only substantiate 17% of its dues going to collective bargaining, and the remainder went to non-chargeable “social, fraternal, and political” activities.

The Washington Supreme Court turned the 1st Amendment on its head to protect the union money for Democrats but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state court ruling, though I doubt much has changed since Washington remains in Democrat hands.

The Alaska State Employees Association was found in the late ‘90s to have a Constitutionally impermissible dues system. ASEA’s solution for years was to let objectors “free ride” rather than institute record keeping systems that would adequately record chargeable costs. They operated under court supervision for several years, but were finally told to go forth and sin no more; I don’t think anything really changed except the calendar and the level of interest.

When I became the State’s head of Labor Relations in 2003, we still had compelled union membership in several of our agreements, even though they’d been illegal since 1986.  I made them agree to “agency shop” language that was facially legal, but I’ll admit that I did nothing to peek under their skirts to see if they were actually maintaining a legal system. If you’re going to challenge a union’s dues system, you are provoking an existential battle. If you provoke the battle, you’ll be better off running for office and getting elected to fight the battle, as Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin did.

If you don’t have that backing from the public that Scott Walker had, you get your head handed to you as Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan did, and you risk turning your state over to the unions and Democrats. This is a battle you really, really don’t want to lose.

Next:   How unions use the money and how union “trusts” influence politics.

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska. He is the author of the book, Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance, available at Amazon.