Friday, July 15, 2005

When Workers Have A Choice: Big Problems For Big Labor

In 1952, 36% of America's workforce belonged to a union. After a fifty-year decline in membership, less than 8% of workers claim union membership. Fox News has its particular take on the multitude of problems that are now facing the big unions. Here are key paragraphs of interest to educators employed by public institutions: (emphasis mine)

Lew Uhler of the Coalition for Employee Rights may become the common enemy against which labor leaders can rally. He is sponsoring an initiative on California's ballot that would require public employee unions to get permission from individual members before using dues for politics - a measure known as "paycheck protection."

Labor organizations annually dump tens of millions of dollars into state and national politics. Unfortunately, workers often have no say in how the money is to be used. While paycheck protection does not take away a union's right to spend dues on politics, it does something almost as bad in the eyes of union officials: it requires the union to get a member's written permission before using his or her dues for political activity.

The first paycheck protection law was adopted by Washington state in 1992. Since then, five other states have enacted various forms of the law. The measure is based on the common sense idea that no one should be forced to support political causes against his or her will.

By qualifying for the California ballot, this measure - once known only to policy wonks and a few union members - will be given a national platform and a compelling spokesman, should Schwarzenegger decide to endorse the initiative.

This worries union officials because they know that workers, when given a choice, overwhelmingly refuse to support union political activity.

After Washington state passed paycheck protection, contributions to the Washington Education Association political committee dropped from over 80 percent of teachers down to 6 percent. Utah adopted paycheck protection in 2001 and now nearly 95 percent of Utah Education Association members refuse to contribute to the union's political fund.

Workers refuse to support their union's politicking because the spending is usually at odds with individual member preferences. For example, although at least 30 percent of California Teachers Association members are Republican, the CTA just approved a $60 per-member dues increase in order to raise $50 million to fight paycheck protection and a Republican governor's education proposals.

This spending discrepancy is consistent with a national trend. The AFL-CIO and affiliate SEIU spent a combined $100 million to mobilize union household voters against President Bush in 2004, but surveys indicate that at least one-third of union voters cast their vote for Bush in the last election.

It should be noted that CTA's rank-and-file were not given an opportunity to vote on this dues increase. The increase was "recommended" by CTA President "Boss" Barbara Kerr and ratified by an appointed executive committee. Because of "closed shop" statutes, many teachers, (such as myself) are forced to contribute surrender monies to these unions, regardless of our wishes or political sentiments.

The practice of forcibly taking money from workers without allowing those workers to have a say in how those funds are spent or to choose their leaders (Neither NEA or CTA permit the rank-and-file to vote for high-level union officers in free, fair, and contested elections.) is simply wrong.

Giving folks freedom of choice, and then honoring that choice, is what true democracy is all about.
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