The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, November/December 2017 edition. To sign up for a free copy of the newsletter via mail please see the form at the bottom of the page.
Union officials’ public statements about forced dues belie their legal arguments
WASHNGTON, D.C. – Since the Supreme Court’s 1977 Abood decision, union dues for public employees have ostensibly been divided between political and ideological activities that workers could not be forced to subsidize and union activities regarding monopoly bargaining which state workers like Janus v. AFSCME plaintiff Mark Janus could be required to fund.
Beginning with the National Right to Work Foundation’s 2012 Knox v. SEIU Supreme Court case, the High Court has begun to question whether that supposed line sufficiently protects the First Amendment rights of workers like Mr. Janus who do not wish to join or associate with a union, especially because all public sector union activities are directed at the government, making them inherently political. Nevertheless union lawyers continue to argue, and are expected to argue again to the Supreme Court in Janus, that the so-called “agency fees” which nonmembers are required to pay are completely unrelated to union political spending and lobbying.
However, in public statements about the impact of losing the power to compel payment from nonmembers, union officials and their allies repeatedly admit that their forced-dues powers are crucial to Big Labor’s vast political influence.
Only 35% of Workers Would Definitely Pay Dues Voluntarily
One of the starkest admissions about how dependent union bosses are on forced dues came from an internal report commissioned by AFSCME, the union in the Janus case. According to a Bloomberg News report, the union study was commissioned to look at the potential impact of a Supreme Court ruling against forced fees. It concluded that union officials could only count on payments from “roughly 35%” of workers if dues were voluntary.
Of the remaining 65 percent, union officials said a quarter would likely opt out while the rest were “on the fence.” A separate admission by AFSCME official and former Obama Administration appointee Naomi Walker demonstrates the extent to which forced dues fuel partisan union spending on politics.
Writing about Janus for a union-funded publication, Walker predicted that the “progressive infrastructure in this country, from think tanks to advocacy organizations—which depends on the resources and engagement of workers and their unions—will crumble,” if the Supreme Court strikes down mandatory union fees. Meanwhile, the SEIU says it has planned for a 30% budget reduction in preparation for the loss of forced-dues powers over public employees.
Behind closed doors the recipients of Big Labor’s political largess also admit that union political expenditures would be significantly impacted by a ruling striking down forced dues. A leaked copy of remarks by the head of the left-wing Democracy Alliance noted that the groups “dodged a bullet” when Scalia’s death left the High Court split 4-4 with forced dues intact.
Democracy Alliance has directed around $500 million in political spending in recent election cycles. It counts national unions as a significant portion of its roughly 100 membership groups, which include AFSCME, SEIU and the two national teacher unions. In the leaked speech, Democracy Alliance President Gara LaMarche described the groups as “a key anchor of funding for progressive campaigns and causes.” According to a report in the Washington Free Beacon, he warned that Big Labor’s political allies would “need to find new ways to raise money to make up for the disastrous financial shortfall that could follow policies that prevent forced unionization.
According to public disclosure reports filed by union officials, Big Labor political spending during the 2016 election cycle topped $1.7 billion. Of that figure, over $1.3 billion came from union general treasury funds, funded largely by workers who would lose their jobs if they refused to pay union dues or fees.