How would you react if your employer informed you he would be taking a modest cut from your paycheck each month for his political action committee? What if he told you that if you try to opt out of this arrangement he'd hassle you and might fight you all the way to the Supreme Court?
Did you know that labor unions already do this? And for the most part, they have been getting away with it. That's why it's heartening to see a new report, from the Washington Examiner's Sean Higgins, that Republicans plan to take up federal labor law if they win the Senate in next month's elections.
Legal precedent has for three decades supposedly guaranteed the First Amendment rights of nonunion workers — who are nonetheless required to pay dues — to avoid subsidizing Big Labor's political drives. But Knox v. SEIU, which ended in a 2012 Supreme Court decision, demonstrates how this guarantee often fails in practice.
In 2005, SEIU abruptly raised its dues for the California public employees it represented for the explicit purpose of creating a $12 million campaign fund to defeat two state ballot measures. The union offered no opportunity for workers to opt out of contributing, unless they sought a refund the following year.
It took the better part of a decade for the public employees who sued the union to have their First Amendment freedom of association vindicated. At one stage, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tried to invalidate their rights altogether in favor of a supposed union right to collect their money.
Republicans now want to fix this gross injustice by means of an Employee Rights Act if they take control of the Senate. The bill would require unions to get members' affirmative permission to use their money for political activity. Workers who support union political drives could still contribute, but workers who want union representation, or who have been forced to accept it against their will, would be protected from funding causes they dislike.
The bill would also force unions to show their members how their money is being spent. Most political expenditures go under the radar and are reported only long after elections are over, and even then only in opaque annual filings with the Department of Labor. When the Wall Street Journal scrutinized these reports in 2012, it found union political spending to be about four times greater than what was then believed.
Democrats in Washington have made a fuss recently about big money and so-called dark money in elections. Last month, 49 Democratic senators actually voted to weaken the First Amendment to halt the supposedly corrupting influence of money on politics. Yes, they would actually amend the Bill of Rights to blunt the influence of private donors who don't share their views. One might take their bleating seriously on this matter if they first acknowledged the egregious wrong of forcing workers to fund political spending out of their paychecks.