February 1, 1996
By Marshall Wittmann and Charles P. Griffin
After all, the AFL-CIO and other labor unions provided
tremendous support for Wyden's candidacy. And all too often labor
union officials rely on compulsory dues to finance political
The pro-Wyden effort provides a glimpse at organized labor's
plans for the 1996 elections. The AFL-CIO recently announced a plan
to spend more than $35 million this year -- seven times the usual
amount -- on electioneering. Unfortunately, many of these
activities will be financed involuntarily by rank-and-file union
members who may disagree with the agendas of union officials.
Republican and Democratic unionists alike are compelled to pay dues
to the labor officials; these dues are then used to pay for many
Congress may soon debate campaign finance reform legislation.
Ending this unjust abuse of hard-working men and women should be a
part of any true reform.
In the past few months, a sleeping giant awoke when the AFL-CIO
elected a new leadership dedicated to advancing a far-left
political agenda. When John Sweeney took over the union's
leadership late last year he pledged greater political involvement
by the organization.
After his installation as AFL-CIO president, Sweeney swiftly
moved to put a new face in charge of election activities by naming
former Clinton administration Labor Department official Steve
Rosenthal as the union's political director. Secretary of Labor
Robert Reich declared, "Steve Rosenthal will be a valuable asset in
the new leadership's mission to revitalize the nation's union
movement." Sweeney said Rosenthal's task would be "building a
powerful, progressive national movement of working people."
The just-completed special election in Oregon to fill the seat
of former Sen. Robert Packwood provided the new leaders a chance to
flex their partisan muscles. According to AFL-CIO documents, there
were more than 25 union activists (12 from the AFL-CIO alone)
devoted full-time to the efforts to elect a Democratic senator.
Political director Rosenthal bragged, "We're mailing endorsement
pieces to 75,000 union members and persuasion pieces to an
estimated 40,000." The AFL-CIO newsletter noted that "another
100,000 fliers comparing the candidates' records are being
produced, and phone banks have been set up across the state."
The AFL-CIO did not act alone, however. By joining forces with
at least 11 other unions, organized labor was able to mount a
considerable presence in this one race. Among the other
participants were the American Federation of Teachers, the American
Federation of Government Employees, the National Association of
Letter Carriers, and the Teamsters. The considerable firepower
these organizations mustered resulted in more than $183,000 in
political action committee (PAC) donations to the democratic
candidate. Not a single dollar of union donations went to the GOP
nominee. Are all union members Democrats? We doubt it.
Of course, these direct donations were only a small part of the
picture. No doubt many of the organizers, mailings and phone banks
were financed directly by the unions at substantially more than the
cost of the PAC donations.
Union tactics came under scrutiny by the media and the voters.
The Teamsters were heavily criticized for ads they ran blaming the
death of a teenage worker on the Republican candidate's business.
Even the beneficiary of the Teamsters efforts, Ron Wyden, was
forced to issue a public statement disavowing the ad and
encouraging the union to pull it off the air. Fair-minded union
members of either party could strongly object to such tactics. Yet,
their dues more than likely paid for them.
Union politicking is nothing new. There is no question that
labor unions have a right to participate in the electoral process.
But as the clamor for campaign finance reform continues, it
behooves members of Congress to consider whether it is just to
force union members to pay for political activities whether they
agree with those activities or not. Corporations may not provide
this sort of direct candidate support and neither should their
organized labor counterparts.
Meaningful reform must level the playing field and ensure that
only voluntary contributions are used for politics. Aggressive
political activities by labor unions must not be funded by
coercion. Congress should end these corrupt practices.
Note: Marshall Wittmann is
director of congressional relations and Charles P. Griffin is
deputy director of the Government Integrity Project at the Heritage Foundation, Washington,
ED020196: Compulsory Union Dues Pay For Politics
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Charles P. Griffin
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