“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”
The quote above appears at the beginning of a report published by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform entitled “Workplace Freedom and Fairness: Are Workers Forced to Fund Political Causes they Oppose?”.
Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA 49), who is chairman of the House Committee, led a hearing on February 8th [FULL VIDEO] to determine if American workers are being forced by union leaders to fund to partisan political activity in which the workers oppose, and if forced political contributions violate worker’s freedom and rights.
The panel consisted of four witnesses, three of whom were union members (willingly and unwillingly) who say that they have been forced to fund political activity through their union dues: Terry Bowman, Claire Waites and Sally Coomer. The fourth witness on the panel was Dr. Kenneth G. Dau-Schmidt, professor of Labor and Employment Law at Indiana University. Below are brief videos of the first three witnesses telling a piece of their story.
The “Executive Summary” of the committee report clearly states the circumstances that led to necessity of having the hearing:
Freedom and choice are the cornerstones of what our system of government was built on. They also represent the core principles that helped create unionization in America. Over time, the role of unions has evolved from being a protector of workers against being forced to work long hours in difficult conditions to a being a powerful agent in the political process.
During the 2010 election cycle, unions spent more than $1.1 billion in dues monies to finance political and lobbying activities. With this emphasis on union political action, a debate is unfolding regarding how to best balance the political view of union bosses against the rights of workers and protecting their freedom of choice.
During the 2+ hour hearing, many statements were made, questions posed, and situations discussed. Each, in their own right, brought a perspective to the table that highlighted the fact that this is a kaleidoscopic issue that brings people of varying backgrounds, ages, and experiences to the table for discussion.
Throughout the hearing, two things became overtly evident. First is the fact that the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court was unpopular by both parties. The Citizens United ruling, which over-ruled the McCain-Feingold Act, is what allowed for the creation of “independent expenditure political action committees”, or commonly referred to as Super PACs. These PACs may accept from individuals, unions, and corporations (both for profit and not-for-profit) unlimited contributions. (This was referenced many times during the hearing).
The second is that a deep partisan rift exists between Democrats and Republicans on this issue – not just on the Committee panel, but in decades of politics. The committee report highlights this divide on a Presidential level:
In 1992, President George H.W. Bush issued Executive Order 12800 that required federal contractors to notify their employees of their Beck rights, but this policy was rescinded by President Clinton in 1993. President George W. Bush reinstated the policy through E.O. 13201 in 2001. However, within the first two weeks President Obama was in office, he revoked President Bush’s executive order and issued his own order governing notification of employee rights under federal labor laws
The connections between government, corporations, and labor unions are vast and extremely convoluted. To understand the current issues being discussed, one must understand the history of these entities, and the rocky relationships among them in the past.
- History of American Unions
The emergence of unions in the United States dates back to colonial times and a need to balance the interests of workers and management. During the industrial revolution, unions grew politically stronger when it was documented that workers, both young and old, were forced to work long hours under difficult conditions. To protect workers’ interests, unions were viewed as a legitimate mechanism to facilitate negotiations between an employer and workers over wages and other employment conditions. In the New Deal era, the status of unions were memorialized by the enactment of various labor laws.
- Arbitration Act of 1888
- Passed after rail strikes in early 1880’s
- Voluntary submission to arbitration
- Presidential investigation
- Invoked only once – in 894 for Pullman rail car manufacturing strike
- Erdman Act of 1898
- 1898-1905 – did not work because employers refused to abide by award
- 1906-13 – disputes settled without strikes because of growing strength of railroad brotherhoods
- Outlawed discrimination against employees for union activities
- Prohibited “yellow dog” contracts (employee agrees not to join a union while employed)
- Newlands Act of 1913 (amended Erdman Act)
- Enacted when parties disagreed over composition of Erdman boards
- Worked until 1918 when unions refused to submit 8-hour demands to arbitration
- The Adamson Act of 1916
- Provided workers with an eight hour day, at the same daily wage they had received previously for a ten hour day
- Required time and a half for overtime
- Esch–Cummins Act (Transportation Act of 1920)
- Created a Railroad Labor Board (RLB)
- Gave RLB power to issue non-binding proposals for the resolution of labor disputes
- In 1921 the RLB ordered a twelve percent reduction in employees’ wages
- In 1922, during a national railroad worker strike, the RLB issued a declaration that purported to outlaw the strike; the Department of Justice then obtained an injunction that carried out that declaration
- Railway Labor Act (RLA) of 1926
- Created via negotiations between the major railroad companies and the unions that represented their employees
- Instituted arbitration provisions
- National Railroad Adjustment Board to resolve grievances
- National Mediation Board addresses disputes over the terms and conditions in a collective bargaining agreement
- The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935
- Defined key principles, which include:
- Protecting a wide range of activities, whether a union is involved or not, in order to promote organization and collective bargaining.
- Protecting employees as a class and expressly not on the basis of a relationship with an employer.
- There can be only one exclusive bargaining representative for a unit of employees.
- Promotion of the practice and procedure of collective bargaining.
- Employers have a duty to bargain with the representative of its employees.
- Established a governmental “Pro-Employee” position, by stating:
“It is declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self- organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.” (29 USC § 151)
- Defined & prohibited five unfair labor practices
- Interfering with, restraining or coercing employees in their rights under Section 7. These rights include freedom of association, mutual aid or protection, self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively for wages and working conditions through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other protected concerted activities with or without a union. Section 8(a)(1)
- “Dominating” or interfering with the formation or administration of any labor organization . Section 8(a)(2)
- Discriminating against employees to encourage or discourage acts of support for a labor organization. 8(a)(3)
- Discriminating against employees who file charges or testify. 8(a)(4)
- Refusing to bargain collectively with the representative of the employer’s employees. 8(a)(5)
- Reactions to NLRA
- The American Liberty League viewed the act as a threat to democracy and “socialist”. The A.L.L. encouraged employers to refuse to comply with the NLRA. This campaign continued until the NLRA was found constitutional by the Supreme Court in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation.
- The American Federation of Labor (AFL) accused the NLRB of favoring the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) when determining whether to hold union elections in plantwide, or wall-to-wall, units. As the NLRB initially favored plant-wide units, which favored the CIO, it compromised several years later under pressure from Congress. [The AFL merged with CIO in 1955, giving us the AFL/CIO union we have today]
- Employers and their allies in Congress criticized the NLRB for its evolving definition of “employee”.
- Defined key principles, which include:
- Arbitration Act of 1888
- Court Rulings
The Supreme Court case of Communications Workers of America et al. v. Beck et al., mentioned above, was a pivotal case in Government/Labor Union relations. The Committee Report sums up this case, and the aftereffects of it:
In 1988, in a more well-known case related to union political spending, Communications Workers of America et al. v. Beck et al, the Supreme Court ruled that the NLRA does not allow a union, over the objection of dues-paying nonmember workers, to spend agency fees on activities unrelated to collective bargaining. However, it is often difficult for the workers to object to these fees and exercise their rights. 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.
To be clear, Beck Rights only extend to nonunion members who pay agency fees in compulsory union states. Beck rights do not apply to union members. For the subset of workers who do have Beck rights, several obstacles exist to exercising one’s Beck rights. First, many workers are unaware of the existence of their right to demand repayment of agency fees that are used for non-representational activities. Indeed, a McLaughlin & Associates poll discovered that 67 percent of workers were unaware of their right to withhold mandatory fees for political purposes. Second, in Beck, the Supreme Court did not determine if unions have an affirmative duty to notify workers about their Beck rights, nor did it proscribe a particular manner for workers to exercise these rights. Finally, in some cases where employees do know about their rights and choose to object to union spending they may “face coercion, threats, and abuse.”
Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize Beck rights under the NLRA, President Obama’s executive order did not discuss these rights. In fact, in the Department of Labor’s (DOL) final rule implementing the executive order, DOL determined that:
“…explication of Beck rights will not be included [in employer notices of worker rights] because of space limitations and because of the policy choice, as expressed in Executive Order 13496, to revoke a more explicit notice to employees of Beck rights.”
Aside from efforts made through executive orders to inform workers of their Beck rights, questions about appropriate notification and processes have been left to an ad hoc determination
There are workers who choose not to invoke their “Beck Rights” for various reasons. Terry Bowman is one of these individuals. The main reason that Mr. Bowman states is because one must resign their union membership, thus opening up the worker to humiliation and harassment in the workplace for the resignation of their union membership.
Mr. Bowman believes that the only clear way to keep forced political donations out of union dues and fees would be to pass a National Right To Work law.
Speaking to the committee members, Mr. Bowman asks the panel to grant to all workers what John F. Kennedy promised in 1962 in Executive Order 10988: ”employees of the federal government shall have and shall be protected in the exercise of the right freely and without fear of penalty or reprisal to form, join, and assist any employee organization – or refrain from any such activity.“
A handful of the Democrats on the committee believe that there is an outright attack on unions by Republicans. Representative Towns (D-NY-10) stated the following during the hearing:
This is a campaign against the American workers, and unions who represent them. These campaigns are aimed at silencing the voices of unions and giving more power to big corporations.
Representative Towns also gave a warning to the witnesses, and Republican members of the committee:
“You need to be careful, because when you look at the improvements that have been made in the workplace, a lot of them came about because of unions, even in situations where people were not unionized.
Because if not, you might look back a few years from now and start talking about how life is so miserable as a result of you not having that protection.”
Furthermore, Rep. Lynch (D-MA 9) stated that the committee has had had 16 hearings about unions, and he doesn’t “believe corporations will be brought in here.” Stating that he also believes what Representative Towns believes: that the Republicans are attacking unions and union workers.
One must keep the following statistics in mind as these Democrat Congressmen are saying these things: Since 2004, 90% of union political donations have gone to Democrat candidates, and in the 2010 election cycle unions spent $1.1 Billion.
Bottom line is that unions are spending money on political action – a lot of money – and often doing so without the consent of the rank-and-file union members. There are some union members who disagree with this activity, and Congressman Issa and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform are seeking out the infringements upon the rights of these American workers.
This should not be a partisan issue, but the misleading “Red Vs. Blue” mentality of Congress is making this a partisan issue.