Paycheck Protection is Catching On

A number of states have either adopted paycheck protection reforms or are looking into the possibility of introducing them to voters or legislatures. The language of these paycheck protection proposals may vary from state to state according to the purposes to be accomplished. For example, California's narrowly defeated campaign reform initiative, Proposition 226, sought to prohibit employers and unions from withholding pay or using dues for political purposes without prior written consent from employees.

Though Proposition 226 failed, exit polls revealed that voters overwhelmingly supported the concept of paycheck protection (see Charts 2 and Chart 3, pages 9 and 10). This suggests that the sponsors of 226 will take their case to the voters again for the next election.

In 1992, the state of Washington passed Initiative 134, which prohibits public sector unions from using "agency shop" dues (those collected from objecting employees) for political purposes without the written permission of those public employees. In 1997, Idaho passed a law that permits union political action committees to accept donations from dues check-off authorizations only if employees give annual written consent. Wyoming passed its version of paycheck protection in 1998.

In Oregon, a measure to afford workers greater freedom to authorize political contributions will be on the November 1998 ballot as Initiative 59.

All of these states so far have focused only on "political contributions" and have thus missed an opportunity under Beck to give workers choices over an entire range of union spending, including social, ideological, and charitable causes. Political spending may be the largest component of union dues expenditures, but it is by no means the sole source of union spending beyond collective bargaining expenses.

The U. S. Supreme Court identified, in Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association,13 seven other examples of union expenses not chargeable to Beck objectors:

  1. Lobbying, unless necessary to ratify or fund the collective bargaining agreement that is applicable to a nonmember;

  2. Public relations activities;

  3. Litigation not specifically on behalf of the nonmember's bargaining unit;

  4. Expenditures related to illegal strikes;

  5. Expenditures related to organizing the employees of other employers;

  6. Union "members only" benefits such as prepaid legal insurance; and

  7. Expenditures related to portions of union publications reporting on the above categories.

When an employee challenges the legitimacy of union spending, it is incumbent upon the union to prove that that particular spending is related to contract administration, collective bargaining, or grievance handling. Political and ideological expenditures out of average union dues could presumably be as high as 79 percent (as in Beck) or even 90 percent (as in Lehnert).