President Bush’s Executive Order

In April 1992, President Bush provided the impetus for a renewed focus on the rights of nonmember employees by signing Executive Order 12800. 45  The purpose of this Executive Order was to inform employees working for federal contractors that they have individual rights and discretion to control union political contributions generated from dues. The principal requirement of the president’s order was the mandatory posting of signs at the work sites of federal contractors informing employees of their rights regarding payment of fees to the union.

The full text of Executive Order 12800 read as follows: 46 

Notice to Employees

Under Federal Law, employees cannot be required to join a union or maintain membership in a union in order to retain their jobs. Under certain conditions, the law permits a union and an employer to enter into a union-security agreement requiring employees to pay uniform periodic dues and initiation fees. However, employees who are not union members can object to the use of their payments for certain purposes and can be required to pay their share of union costs relating to collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment.

If you believe that you have been required to pay dues and fees used in part to support activities not related to collective bargaining, contract administration, or grievance adjustment, you may be entitled to a refund and to an appropriate reduction in future payments.

The notice also advised employees to contact the Division of Information at the National Labor Relations Board for further information and gave the Board’s address in Washington, D.C.

President Bush indicated that his intention in signing the order was to "strengthen the political rights of American workers from being compelled against their will to pay union or agency dues in excess of what is actually used for collective bargaining purposes and contract administration." The primary purpose of this Executive Order was to enforce the protections of the Beck decision by "clarifying and bringing up to date requirements for labor organizations to account for how workers’ dues are spent."

At one point, White House officials estimated that President Bush’s Beck order could cut off as much as $2.4 billion annually in union money available for political activities. Union officials, however, disputed that figure as wildly inflated, contending that unions spend less than $1 billion yearly on political and other such activities. 47 

Although Bush’s Executive Order was a step in the right direction of advancing worker knowledge, it was short-lived. Within a month of assuming office in 1993, President Clinton rescinded the Bush Executive Order as "distinctly anti-union" on the grounds that it failed to notify workers of any other rights protected by the NLRA. 48  Even if this argument is accepted, a simple solution would have been to widen the scope of Executive Order 12800 to include other worker rights, but this was not done. President Clinton has not proposed an alternative to Executive Order 12800 and there seems little likelihood that he will do so. The present policy will tend to keep workers uninformed of their rights to a refund of compulsory union dues.