Oversight Committee Report Documents Challenges to Workplace Freedom & Fairness

February 8, 2012

Hearing and Report Outline Consequences for Workers Forced to Fund Political Activity

(WASHINGTON)—Many workers are intentionally left unaware of their rights and subjected to threats and intimidation when they speak out against union support for political activities. Aided by Obama Administration Executive Orders and recent court cases weakening worker choice protections, unions can get around workers rights by inaccurately categorizing expenditures as representational—and not political—expenses.

These are among the findings of a Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report released today and a hearing on the same subject.

“Every worker should have a choice on whether or not money is taken from their paychecks and used to fund political activities, and every union member has a right to know how that money is being spent, Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) said. “The Committee’s focus on this issue is not an examination of the validity of unions or their right to exist, but rather an effort to ensure that the political activities of the unions do not infringe on the rights and freedoms of union workers,” Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), he added.

The Committee report outlines how a significant portion of union dues finance collective bargaining agreement administration and are also heavily injected into political activities. Evidence from opinion surveys and personal testimonials indicate that many workers are not comfortable with the level of political activism in which unions engage. During the 2010 election cycle, unions spent over $1.1 billion dollars in dues to finance political and lobbying activities.

The report also documents how unions try to make it difficult for workers to understand how to exercise Constitutionally-protected rights to opt-out of union political activities by obscuring required notifications in magazines or other publications. It noted that 67 percent of workers are unaware of theses protections.

The Committee hearing and report documented real world stories of several workers, including:

• Terry Bowman, Ypsilanti, Mich.: An assembly line worker at a Ford Motor Company plant in Rawsonville, Terry has been a United Auto Workers (UAW) member for 14 years. But he and others have experienced criticism for exercising their right to speak on issues of policy and politics different from those expressed by union leadership. If an individual does speak out, Terry says, “he or she is going to be harassed and persecuted on the job for doing so.” According to Terry, these workers are often treated as “less” than others and “left out of the big picture in the workplace,” for speaking their minds.

• Sally Coomer, Duvall, Wash.: Sally is a homecare worker and mother of a disabled adult daughter for whom she is also the primary caregiver. She receives Medicaid funding to provide full-time care for her daughter, but by operation of current law, she has been forced to become a member of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). According to Sally, new laws pushed by the union have created a twisted and complicated relationship between the state, Sally and her daughter. The law states that an independent caregiver is an employee of the client for whom he or she cares, and the state is considered the employer for collective bargaining purposes only. Sally is technically an employee of her mentally incapacitated 21-year-old daughter. This employee definition also affects Sally’s ability so secure financial stability for retirement. In her previous non-union capacity, she was able to pay into the Social Security system. This is not allowed as a unionized employee, a fact Sally calls an “unintended consequence” of the law.

• Claire Waits, Daphne, Ala.: Claire is a career educator and joined the local teachers union to obtain professional liability insurance, the only affordable source for such coverage. Despite Alabama’s “right to work” status, Claire is forced to remain a union member in order to secure this essential coverage. Claire also reports that her union has pressured workers to contribute a portion of conference per-diem expenses to a “children’s fund” that was described as a benefit for children but was in fact used primarily for political activity and supporting candidates favored by union leaders.

“Because of recent court decisions and Obama Administration actions to reduce transparency and reporting requirements for unions, workers do not know how much of their money is funneled to SuperPACS or used for other political activity. Workers deserve answers to these questions just as they deserve the freedom to choose to join—and support the political views—of America’s labor organizations,” Chairman Issa added.

A link to the Committee report is here; a link to the Committee’s hearing, held today, is here.

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Related Documents

Committee Report