Home / Blog / Article


July 5 2018

End to Compulsory Union Dues Will Hit Progressive Groups Hard

by Charlotte Hays

We applaud when activists, whether of the left or right, ask for contributions to support their ideas.

This is how a thriving democracy works.

But shouldn't they at least have to ask for contributions rather than receiving funds confiscated from unwilling donors?

In a way, that is partly what the Supreme Court's recent Janus ruling addressed.

Mark Janus, who brought the case, didn't believe it was fair for him to be forced to  pay mandatory union dues, even though he had opted not to belong to a union and disagreed with some of the political stances his public sector union was taking. Janus viewed it as a First Amendment issue. The Court, by a 5-4 ruling, agreed.

Now, a New York Times story reports on what groups were getting money from union dues. 

Here is how the story began:

The Supreme Court decision striking down mandatory union fees for government workers was not only a blow to unions. It will also hit hard at a vast network of groups dedicated to advancing liberal policies and candidates.

Some of these groups work for immigrants and civil rights; others produce economic research; still others turn out voters or run ads in Democratic campaigns. Together, they have benefited from tens of millions of dollars a year from public-sector unions — funding now in jeopardy because of the prospective decline in union revenue.

Some of these groups are undoubtedly worthy; some we might criticize. But shouldn't they all have to raise funds without using funds coerced from unwilling people who do not necessarily support their ideals? I mean--puh-leeze--shouldn't they have to ask for the money?

And the money was significant. Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union, told the Times that her union had cut it s budget by 30 percent in anticipation of the Janus ruling.

And it is interesting what specific groups will be affected:

Brad Woodhouse, a former communications director for the Democratic National Committee, until recently ran a group called Americans United for Change, whose budget was heavily dependent on contributions from public-sector unions when it campaigned for health care reform and the Obama stimulus plan a decade ago. Mr. Woodhouse said unions gave less in 2015 and 2016, when the Supreme Court considered a predecessor to the Janus case. (The court deadlocked in that case after Justice Antonin Scalia died.) Partly as a result, the group shut down after the 2016 election.

The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank producing research on worker rights, wages and employment, has relied on the four biggest public-sector unions for about 10 to 15 percent of its roughly $6 million in annual revenue in recent years.

The Economic Policy Institute, according to Investors Business Daily, "puts out pro-union studies that the press then reports as credible research." Some other recipients: Mi Familia Vota received around  $1 million a year from public unions. America Votes received around $2 million in 2016.

In addition to contributing to other organizations, the public-sector unions also spent more than $7 million on ballot initiatives for such causes as raising taxes to fund public services, raising the minimum wage, and opposing charter schools in Massachusetts.

If these are your causes, by all means, write a check.

But nobody should be forced to contribute to them through mandatory union dues. If you are one of these organizations that will lose funds: Regard this as an opportunity to learn to make your case better.

Unions alwaysmaintained that dues coerced from non-union employees were fair because these employees also benefited from union bargaining. Their contributions went for collective bargaining, not supporting political causes with which they disagreed, the unions claimed.

IBD points out the problem here:

So how is that — if none of the forced dues went to pay for anything other than collective bargaining — all these liberal activist groups are worried about having their gravy train cut off?

Surely the loss of those "fair share" fees would only come out of the unions' collective bargaining budget, not the massive amounts of money they spend supporting liberal groups and causes. Right?

Unions might say that losing all that "fair share" money means they'll have to shift money from other activities to cover reduced collective bargaining dollars.

But that just underscores the fact that money is fungible. By forcing nonunion members to pay "fair share" fees, unions could free up substantial amounts of funds — that otherwise would have been spent on collective bargaining — to pay for political activism.

What's more, unions had fairly wide discretion over what counted as "collective bargaining," for which they could directly charge nonunion members.

The New York Times chides those who supported an end compulsory union dues, implying it was a sneaky way to harm the network of liberal/progressivie recipients.

Is it too much to ask that these organizations receive funding from people who actually agree with their goals and give willingly?

 

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
Follow us