Edith Hakola and W. James Young*
The AFL-CIO has received much attention for its $35 million campaign
to bring a Democratic majority back to Congress. Federal Election
Commission reports show union political action committees spent
$95 million on politics in 1992. However, labor experts estimate
that three to five times as much -- $300-$500 million in soft-money
largesse -- is doled out directly from union dues coffers, collected
as compulsory dues from individuals nationwide.
For years, the increased radicalism of Big Labor officials has
been politically divorcing AFL-CIO and NEA bosses from their membership.
The 40% of union members who voted for the Republican candidates
in 1994 saw nearly 100% of union political spending go to Democratic
candidates. The millions of dollars provided by these compulsory
fee-paying employees is probably the single largest element of unreported
political spending -- garnered through the federal privilege granted
to labor unions to collect forced dues from individual employees
as a condition of employment.
Private-sector employees seeking to prevent their money from going
to "opinions which they disbelieve," in Thomas Jefferson's
words, must rely on the victory won in the U.S. Supreme Court in
1988 by attorneys provided by the National Right to Work Legal Defense
Foundation, in Communications Workers of America v. Beck.
Beck holds that the federal monopoly-bargaining license granted
to private-sector unions cannot be used to coerce funding for union
political and ideological activities. Quoting Ellis v. Railway Clerks
(1984), the Beck Court held that the National Labor Relations Act
"authorizes the exaction of only those fees and dues necessary
to `performing the duties of an exclusive representative of the
employees in dealing with the employer on labor-management issues.'"
However, the White House and the National Labor Relations Board
have moved glacially and in the wrong direction to "enforce"
Beck. It wasn't until April 1992 that steps finally were taken to
implement Beck by President Bush's Executive Order requiring that
all federal contractors post notices informing employees of their
President Clinton rescinded the Bush Executive Order. Secretary
of Labor Robert Reich in 1993 killed the Department of Labor rule-making
project, initiated by President Bush. The rules would have required
labor unions to report LM-2/LM-3 financial disclosure information
on a functional basis (i.e., collective bargaining, politics, lobbying,
etc.) instead of on the existing nondescript basis (i.e., salaries,
wages, etc.) that provides no useful information to employees subject
to compulsory union fee extractions. The rule-making project would
have required unions to report what they spend on activities chargeable
to Beck objectors (collective bargaining, contract administration,
and grievance adjustment,) and what union officials spend on non-chargeable
The first of the few cases allowed by the Bush-appointed General
Counsel to reach the Board, California Saw and Knife Works, was
decided by a Board with a Clinton-appointed majority. After a delay
of more than ten years after the first charge had been filed, the
Board's first Beck decision, rather than treat with appropriate
care the First Amendment rights of employees regarding this issue
of coerced political speech, granted only the most grudging procedural
guarantees to employees.
For example, the Board held that notice of individual employee
rights could be placed inside an internal union magazine filled
with political propaganda with no mention of the notice on the cover.
The NLRB also held that union members in patronage positions can
provide an adequate accounting of union expenditures for political
and non-political activities, even though they are neither "accountants"
The NLRB took another move in the wrong direction on Beck this
year. NLRB General Counsel Feinstein charged a Pennsylvania company
-- whose employees are represented by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney's
own Service Employees International Union -- with violating the
law because the company attempted to inform its employees of their
Many years of apathy and over three years of active hostility have
forced employees into expensive litigation to vindicate their rights.
And they are important rights. Forcing an employee to finance a
union's political agenda infringes, as the Court put it in Ellis,
on the "employee's freedom to associate for the advancement
of ideas, or to refrain from doing so, as he sees fit."
The average union member in the United States pays between $400-$500
annually in dues, money he could be using to support his own candidates
and causes. In Beck, the Communication Workers union could prove
only that 21% of its budget was spent on collective bargaining.
Presumably, the rest went to political, ideological and other non-collective-bargaining
The Beck case established a clear legal ruling that employees are
being seriously wronged by union officials' use of compulsory dues
to elect candidates and promote causes the employees oppose. The
challenge now is to develop more effective enforcement of employees'
*Edith Hakola is the General Counsel and W. James Young is a staff
attorney for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation,