WASHINGTON – Should union members be able to choose which political campaigns their dues support and should labor organizations be forced to share with their members how exactly those political dollars are being spent?
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform heard from some union workers Wednesday about how they feel their dues should be used.
The hearing took place one day after President Barack Obama changed his position on super PACs and encouraged his donors to support his PAC in the 2012 presidential campaign. Super PACs can raise unlimited funds from groups, such as unions and corporations, as long as they do not coordinate their activities with a candidate for federal office.
Unions are among the largest donors to political campaigns, and they typically favor Democratic candidates.
“Every worker should have the choice to decide whether their money is taken from their paychecks and used to fund political activity,” said Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., in an opening statement. “When this occurs, a worker should also have the right to know how their money is spent.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, said unions already have “extensive administrative procedures and reporting requirements.” He argued that corporations should be subject to some of the same rules unions face, comparing shareholders to union members paying dues.
“Even if shareholders object to political spending by a corporation,” he said, “they have no comparable legal rights to opt out of financing a corporation’s political activity or to seek reimbursement for these funds.”
Issa said the hearing was not about the validity of unions or their right to exist, but was meant to make the case that workers have the freedom to choose how political dollars drawn from their dues are spent. He said the committee would not only investigate the transparency in unions’ use of members’ dues, but they would look into how banks and companies use shareholders profits, as well.
This hearing was the first of many discussions Issa wants to have about political contributions from unions, he said.
Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, professor of labor and employment law at Indiana University, said there should be a law that gives a legal right for employees or shareholders to abstain from being forced to pay for corporate political activity. There are already extensive laws upholding the rights of union employees to dissent, he said.
Terry Bowman, a United Auto Workers member and president of Union Conservatives, Inc., said he is pro labor, but he doesn’t like it when unions become “quasi-political parties and socio-economic groups pushing a radical, left-wing ideology.”
Bowman said that Republican union workers are “harassed, ridiculed and persecuted” by union bosses because their money is spent supporting candidates they do not support.
The only effective solution to this problem, Bowman said, is to establish a national “Right to Work” law, which would give laborers the freedom to not support political activities financially as a condition of employment.
States such as Wisconsin and Ohio, with Republican governors in charge, both passed bills that reined in the political influence of public employee unions by restricting collective bargaining rights.
Voters repealed Ohio’s law in a referendum on the November ballot. Wisconsin’s law is still in effect, but Gov. Scott Walker is facing the possibility of a recall election this year.