What Do Union Members Do When Union Bosses' Political Agendas Don't Reflect Their Own?

Grandpa Wouldn’t Recognize Today’s Unions.

Nationwide, as many Americans have begun to see, unions have become one of the largest special interest groups in the nation—and often at the expense of taxpayers and, in many cases, other workers. As unions have moved more into politics, this transition from building unions for workers to building a progressive political party to “reorder America’s priorities” has left many union members wondering whether their unions have been hijacked for purposes outside of the betterment of the workplace.  As more and more politicians get bought off by union bosses, it certainly seems clear that today’s unions are more about building a ‘progressive’ political movement than representing many of their members’ interests.

In all, unions collect over $13 billion dollars per year in union dues and fees from workers, the majority of whom have no choice but to pay the union or be fired from their jobs. Once the money leaves the workers’ pockets, though, union bosses are pretty much free to use the money how they see fit.  For example, in addition to paying themselves and their staffs, union bosses also take the money and spend an astronomical amount of money pushing their progressive agenda.

While hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on direct political activities and lobbying, unions also spend hundreds of millions on funding shadowy groups to push for things like nationalized health care, the job-killing Employee Free Choice Act (which effectively eliminates workers’ right to a secret-ballot election), as well as the effort to nationalize America’s retirement system.

Despite the use of union dues being used with little input from the workers themselves, throughout the country, there are cracks beginning to appear in the more “progressive” (read: socialist) union bosses’ veneer.  As union bosses have pushed open borders and the legalization of illegal immigrants as a means of replenishing their depleted ranks, some have taken exception.

Pushing Back Against ‘Progressive’ Union Bosses.

In 2006, breaking with their more ‘progressive’ comrades, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) passed a resolution opposing Amnesty for Illegals.

A resolution adopted by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) at their recent convention in Cleveland, opposing amnesty for illegal aliens and expansion of the number of guest workers admitted to the U.S. is further evidence of bipartisan opposition to the immigration plan being promoted by President Bush and Senate leaders.

Organized labor has traditionally been a key constituency within the Democratic Party, and the resolution approved by the IBEW membership, together with recent statements by Teamster’s president James Hoffa, indicates widespread opposition to a guest worker amnesty plan that cuts across partisan lines.

The IBEW approved its resolution after their convention was addressed by CNN’s LOU DOBBS. The resolution places the 750,000-member union firmly on record in opposition to amnesty for illegal aliens and new guest worker programs, and in support of immigration enforcement at the borders and in the workplace.

In Milwaukee, when pro-amnesty forces hijacked a Labor Day parade a few years ago, Local 75 of the Plumbers and Gas Fitters boycotted the parade.

Local 75 of the Plumbers and Gas Fitters will break from tradition and not march in Milwaukee’s Labor Day parade today because the union considers the inclusion of immigrant advocates a distraction from Labor Day.

“This is strictly a Labor Day celebration. Any other purpose of this parade would not do Labor Day any justice, in my opinion. It’s designed to celebrate labor. Labor only,” said Harry Kreuser, Local 75 business manager.


“There was conversation about bringing in the Hispanic community to participate in the parade, and it was a rally on their part for legalizing the illegal aliens in the Hispanic community. And we just felt that this parade should not be a political parade or a political statement as much as it is for Labor Day,” Kreuser said.

This year, when a coalition of unions spearheaded by the SEIU organized a boycott over Arizona’s new SB1070, this caused some backlash, even within the SEIU, where a number of Arizona members have quit the SEIU over the union’s attempt to cause their state economic harm.

Dozens of city employees in Chandler, Tempe and Gilbert have quit the Service Employees International Union this year over what some are saying is the organization’s decision to boycott Arizona over SB 1070, the state’s controversial immigration-enforcement law.

The 58 who pulled out of the union in Chandler since the organization announced its national boycott May 5 cut the city’s membership by about 30 percent – from 198 to 140 workers. The Tempe municipal employees’ SEIU local saw 25 of its 264 members quit during the same period. Gilbert’s 84 SEIU members represent a 16 percent drop from the 100 recorded in February. All three municipalities provided the membership numbers in response to public-records requests.

“This is an emotional, highly charged issue and people on both sides feel very strongly about it,” said Scott Washburn, Arizona SEIU director. “A significant number disagree with the union, but some new members have joined because of it (the boycott).”


Nan Kahl, a Chandler city clerk’s assistant and former SEIU member, was among those who quit. Before she left the union she held leadership positions in the group and was an active volunteer who helped organize SEIU’s water drive to benefit the homeless this year. Kahl declined to publicly discuss her reasons for quitting but said the boycott and SB 1070 controversy appears to be the biggest factor in the mass exodus. She also said personal finances may play a role for some. Union dues are based on a percentage of employees’ pay and some whose spouses have lost jobs are now the family breadwinners, she said.

Chandler Human Resources Director Debra Stapleton said there is one-time period during which employees can drop union membership and that came shortly after the SB 1070 boycott was announced by SEIU. Stapleton said the 58 who quit represent the largest drop she has seen at one time.

The SEIU’s problem with members quitting the union in Arizona is likely to grow even larger for the purple behemoth as 22 other states are also considering legislation like Arizona’s SB 1070.

Union Members Have the Right to NOT Have Their Dues Used for Politics.

Unlike workers in Right-to-Work states who can stop paying a union entirely, most union members do not have that right because they live in states without Right to Work laws.  This fact leaves many union members frustrated because their dues are being used by union bosses for politicians and political causes the members may not agree with.

However, there are ways in which workers—even those who are required to pay a union as a condition of employment—can stop a union from using their dues money for politicians and political causes they do not support.  This process is known as union members exercising their Beck Rights [named after union member Harry Beck, who successfully sued to stop having his dues money used for politics].

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a foundation that helps workers fight forced unionism (for free).  The NRTW has laid out an easy-to-read guide for unionized workers to understand their rights, as well as provides a sample letter for members to send their union to stop having their union dues used for politics.


[your address]

[name and address of union]

[To appropriate union officer]:

I object to the collection and expenditure by the union of a fee for any purpose other than my pro rata share of the union’s costs of collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment, as is my right under Communications Workers v. Beck, 487 U.S. 735 (1988). Pursuant to Teachers Local 1 v. Hudson , 475 U.S. 292 (1986), and Abrams v. Communications Workers, 59 F.3d 1373 (D.C. Cir. 1995), I request that you provide me with my procedural rights, including: reduction of my fees to an amount that includes only lawfully chargeable costs; notice of the calculation of that amount, verified by an independent certified public accountant; and notice of the procedure that you have adopted to hold my fees in an interest-bearing escrow account and give me an opportunity to challenge your calculation and have it reviewed by an impartial decisionmaker.

[If you pay dues by payroll deduction, include this paragraph: Accordingly, I also hereby notify you that I wish to authorize only the deduction of representation fees from my wages. If I am required to sign a new deduction authorization form to make that change, please provide mewith the necessary form.]

Please reply promptly to my request. Any further collection or expenditure of dues or fees from me made without the procedural safeguards required by law will violate my rights under the National Labor Relations Act and/or U.S. Constitution.

Finally, please consider this objection to be permanent and continuing in nature.

Sincerely yours,

If you include the paragraph on the change in your payroll deduction
authorization, you should also send a copy of this letter to the payroll department of your employer.

Another way in which workers—even those in Non-Right-to-Work states—can choke off having their dues used for politics is to vote not to have forced union dues at all. This is called a deauthorization election.’

A deauthorization election has only one purpose and effect: to remove the forced-unionism clause from the contract. The remainder of the contract, including all wages and benefits, remains in effect and the union continues to serve as the exclusive bargaining representative, whether or not the employees pay any dues or fees. Even after a successful deauthorization, every employee remains fully covered by the contract, whether or not he or she remains a union member or pays any dues.

A deauthorization election should be distinguished from a “Decertification” election, in which employees vote to remove the union as their collective bargaining representative. While decertification elections can normally be held only near the expiration of the contract (or every three years, whichever comes first), deauthorization elections can be held at any time during the life of the contract.

Most employees prefer a workplace where membership and the payment of dues is voluntary, as it forces the union hierarchy to be more accountable to the rank-and-file workers. Instead of relying on threats, intimidation, and even firings to gain financial support, union officials have to sell the benefits of union membership. [Emphasis added.]

In fact, deauthorization elections happen more often than unions would care to admit.  Currently, in Pennsylvania, workers at Pocono Medical Center are scheduled to have an election to decide whether or not the SEIU should be able to force workers to be fired for failure to pay dues.

Some Pocono Medical Center workers want the ability to opt out of the Service Employees International Union because they feel the union hasn’t done its job.

“They negotiated the contract and told us they could get certain things, but we didn’t get them — raises and bonuses, better health care — none of that ever happened,” dietary worker Steven VonCrep said. “It’s a matter of free choice, our freedom to choose to belong to the union or not.”

As more and more union members get fed up with having their dues money used on issues they do not support, there is likely to be an increase of the type of push back that the SEIU is experiencing in Arizona and elsewhere.

Moreover, as today’s union bosses continue to prove that they are more of a special interest group whose goals differ from that of many Americans, members knowing how to exercise their rights will become increasingly important.


“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.”  Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776

Originally posted at BigGovernment.com

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