Until after Election Day next week, Americans can expect to be bombarded with political ads every time they turn on their televisions, computer screens and car radios. While all of us can share in the annoyance of being overwhelmed with these commercials, there’s one group with special cause for anger: the millions of Americans who are forced to contribute to political ads through their union dues, even if they oppose the candidates their money is going to support.
Can you imagine how you’d feel watching those commercials if the president had promised to “bankrupt” your industry — knowing that every month a portion of your paycheck goes straight to supporting his party’s efforts to do just that?
This is exactly the situation many coal miners face. Their union, the United Mine Workers of America, donated $50,000 to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s House Majority PAC in 2012 and 2013. It sent roughly $20,000 to anti-coal Democrats including Pelosi and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. This was in addition to dues the union paid the AFL-CIO, which itself gave hundreds of thousands to groups linked to Democrats.
The union leadership is spending members’ paychecks on candidates who literally would put coal miners out of their jobs if given the chance — and in many states it’s all but impossible for individual members to stop it.
Construction workers face the same injustice, with millions of dollars of their union dues going to support politicians who are blocking construction of the Keystone XL pipeline — a project that would create more than 4,000 jobs in the construction industry.
The United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, for instance, has written some big checks — at least $2.7 million worth — to the anti-Keystone party using its members’ money. That included $1.25 million to the pro-Obama SuperPAC, $500,000 to the president’s inaugural committee, $450,000 to Pelosi’s House Majority PAC, and $500,000 to Harry Reid’s Senate Majority PAC.
The union’s PAC chipped in over $1.4 million to various other Democrat candidates — even as the president and the Democrat-controlled Senate have refused to approve the pipeline.
Not only are many union members being forced to contribute to candidates who are harming their industries, but many of them are being forced to fund candidates and parties they oppose in their personal beliefs.
Exit polls show that political spending by union leadership is far more lopsided than the ideological makeup of the unions in general. In 2012, 40 percent of voters from union households voted for Mitt Romney, while 58 percent voted for President Obama. Compare that to the political contributions by the unions themselves. According to data from OpenSecrets and FollowTheMoney, 90 percent of them have gone to Democrats in 2014.
These data suggest there is a sizeable number of union members — maybe as many as half — whose dues are going to pay for ads to support Democrats even though the members are headed to the polls to vote Republican.
The practice of taking money from workers’ paychecks to spend on political causes they don’t support is both abusive and a violation of basic fairness. Congress should put an end to it.
The paycheck protection provision of the Employee Rights Act, now before Congress, would ensure that unions get explicit permission from members to spend their dues for political purposes. The bill was introduced in the Senate by Orrin Hatch (it’s co-sponsored by Lamar Alexander, ranking member on the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee) and by Tom Price in the House.
Like paycheck protection, the other provisions of the Employee Rights Act are all common sense, like guaranteeing a secret ballot on important decisions such as whether to join a union and whether to strike, as well as requiring that unions be recertified periodically so all employees get a say in whether they’ll be paying union dues. One analysis of government data found that less than 10 percent of currently-unionized employees had the opportunity to vote for their union.
The next Congress should make it a priority to pass the Employee Rights Act. No Americans should have to spend the next election cycle financing candidates who want to put them out of a job.
Newt Gingrich is a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. He is an advisor to the Center for Union Facts.