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You wouldn’t spend money on something you don’t want or need, right? If you did, that would be a waste. And certainly, no one should force you to waste your own money.
Believe it or not, people are being forced to spend their money all the time in ways they don’t want to — by legal means, nonetheless. Unions have slipped through the cracks of transparency and accountability, operating in ways that are testing the constitutional limits of the First Amendment.
Two recent reports have revealed shocking details of how unions workers’ and taxpayers’ resources to advance union interests. That sometimes includes funding political speech with money people have been forced to pay, even if they don’t support the union’s political ideology.
Freedom of association and the rights of both workers and taxpayers are then called into question, in both the public and private sectors.
We’re all familiar with the phrase, “time is money.” The more time something takes, the more money it takes due to wages and other resources. In the public sector, that money comes from taxpayers.
Do you know where all your money is going?
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management recently published a report about the amount of work hours government employees used to conduct union business in fiscal year 2016. Referred to as “official time,” it’s funded by taxpayer dollars meant to subsidize work duties.
In FY 2016, federal employees spent more than 3.6 million working hours on union business. That includes:
These, and more, cost taxpayers nearly $175 million. At the scandal-plagued VA alone, 472 employees spent 100 percent of their working hours advancing union interests instead of actually caring for veterans in fiscal 2017, including two who each made more than $190,000 per year – all while veterans were dying waiting in line for the VA’s government-run healthcare.
While some official time is spent on collective bargaining or worker grievances, some of it could be spent on political activity. There is so little oversight or transparency on these hours that there’s no way to tell if it is, or how much.
Lawmakers are considering several bills that would create transparency and accountability for official time, such as Rep. Jody Hice’s Official Time Reform Act of 2017 and Rep. Jodey Arrington’s Veterans, Employees, and Taxpayers Protection Act of 2017. The Trump administration has also indicated intent to address the issue. But until action is taken, taxpayer dollars are there for unions to do with what they want.
Unions in the private sector can also do what they want with members’ money. Considering unions generally lean to the left of the political spectrum, the situation is particularly frustrating for workers who do not.
The Employee Rights Act, introduced in Congress but currently stuck in committee, would require unions to receive written permission from workers before spending their dues on anything other than collective bargaining — including donations to political nonprofits.
Since unions don’t need to get that permission right now, workers are at risk for funding things they never intended to fund.
A report from EmployeeRightsAct.com shows that between 2010 and 2017, unions handed over more than $1.35 billion in workers’ dues — dues separate from political funds that are supposed to be used for collective bargaining only — to political nonprofit groups.
In that seven-year span, some $401.4 million was given to the Democratic Party and aligned groups, including but not limited to:
Union leaders are within their rights to make these and other donations and hold any beliefs they please. But the fact that they do so without receiving workers’ permission is an infringement on the rights of those workers – particularly because many workers do not agree with those beliefs, as was made clear when over 40 percent of union households voted Republican in 2016.
As the Employee Rights Act sits plagued by inaction, the U.S. Supreme Court has a chance to increase the freedom of workers in the public sector.
Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees is due for a decision next month. Mark Janus, an Illinois state employee, sued AFSCME arguing he shouldn’t be forced to pay “agency fees” to the union since its collective bargaining with the government constitutes lobbying and political speech he does not agree with.
Unions are now panicking, trying to convince the public of all the bad things that could happen to them and the economy, should the highest court side with Janus. Membership would drop, they claim, the economy would take a hit.
One study claims that a decision in favor of Janus would reduce union membership and trigger a $16.8 billion plunge in wages and benefits.
But that means hundreds of thousands of workers would no longer be forced to fund political speech against their will, and “another way to look at that — if it were to happen — is that $16.8 billion would be saved by taxpayers,” Americans for Prosperity Director of Policy Akash Chougule responded in an op-ed published by the New York Post. “As the study itself admits, “governments may be able to reduce overall tax burdens” as a result. What’s not to like?”
All potentially negative side-effects of Janus could be avoided if the unions would simply provide value to members, listen to them and give them a compelling reason to stay. Unions best represent their workers when participation is voluntary, not coercive.
It’s time that we stand up for freedom, protect taxpayers, and empower workers by allowing them to have more control over where their hard-earned money goes. Sign this petition and join the fight!