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Jewish World Review / May 25,1998 / 29 Iyar, 5758

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas Union dues and don'ts

LOS ANGELES -- California voters will decide on June 2 which Democrat they want running for governor against the sole major Republican candidate, State Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren. An important initiative, Proposition 226, will also appear on the ballot.

The proposition asks voters whether union members should continue to be forced to pay $40 million of their union dues without their permission for causes and candidates many of them don't support. The proposition would require union leaders to get their members' written permission before using union dues for political purposes. And it would block employers from making automatic deductions from paychecks for such political contributions or expenditures without the workers' annual written permission.

The question is huge because Big Labor has announced an expensive nationwide campaign to regain the House of Representatives for the Democratic Party in the November elections. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has pledged to recruit, train and deploy a grass-roots army of union campaign workers to elect more Democrats to the House.

A Los Angeles Times poll found that 66 percent of likely voters and 58 percent of union members support Proposition 226. But union leaders continue to spend their members' money to oppose it. The California Teachers Association promises to spend $3 million to defeat Proposition 226, despite the fact that 70 percent of its union members favor the measure.

California's 2.2 million public- and private-sector union members pay about $880 million per year in union dues, according to an analysis by former Labor Department economist Mark Wilson, now with The Heritage Foundation. Union leaders, he writes, spend as much as 4.6 percent of dues, or $40.5 million, for political causes. If Proposition 226 passes, workers could demand significant sums be returned to them if they disagree with the way their dues are spent. That means 230,000 teachers would have access to $4.2 million, 118,000 truck drivers could get back $2.2 million, 62,000 police officers could demand $1.1 million, 85,000 postal workers could draw $1.6 million, and $3.8 million would be available to 204,000 mechanics and repairers. Some might choose to support their unions' political activities, but they would have a choice.

Current law supports such choices, but many workers complain of intimidation by union officials or say they weren't aware they have such a choice. In 1988, the Supreme Court ruled in Communications Workers of America vs. Beck that members of unions may choose what political activities they support. That means a pro-school-choice teacher can refuse to allow her union dues to be spent against education vouchers. An electrician who favors free trade would not be required to underwrite with his dues a union effort in support of trade barriers.

President George Bush ordered that notices of union workers' rights be posted in workplaces. But when President Clinton took office in 1993, one of his early acts was to order the notices removed.

If Proposition 226 passes, it will fuel similar efforts in 26 other state legislatures. Nevada and Oregon are among several states collecting signatures for ballot initiatives that would enshrine workers' rights in state law.

Some estimates show that if all union-covered, private-sector employees in states without protective Right-to-Work laws learned of their rights under Beck, and just 25 percent chose to object to the way their dues are spent, Big Labor would forfeit $266 million per year (assuming a 20 percent average refund of their compulsory union dues used for politics). Right now, that money gives unions an unfair advantage in politics and an unfair amount of power over some of its members.

No one should be forced to subsidize causes with which he or she disagrees as part of the condition of employment. The passage of Proposition 226, and a wider dissemination of workers' rights under Beck, will help bring more equality to the political process and reduce the unfair advantage Big Labor has had for too long over the consciences of its own members.

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3/13/98: David Brock's Turnabout

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Inc.