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Union dues shouldn’t serve as pipeline to Democrats

As the November elections get closer, voters in Nevada will be bombarded with advertisements for candidates left and right. Throw in issue advocacy advertisements and you’d be forgiven for wishing that political money would just evaporate.

America’s labor unions, which have denounced the Supreme Court for expanding the rights of nonprofit organizations to make public statements on election matters, would seem to be the bedraggled swing voter’s ally in taking back his television.

But don’t be fooled: Labor unions are among the biggest spenders in national elections, employ the same “social welfare” group tactics they decry and use forced dues money in addition to political funds to push a left-wing agenda a significant bloc of their membership doesn’t support.

Even in 2012, as President Barack Obama was storming to re-election, members of union households weren’t at all unanimous in their support of him and his fellow Democrats. In fact, national exit polls show that 40 percent of members of union households voted for Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Meanwhile, union political action committees spent more than 90 percent of their funds backing Democrats.

And while these PAC contributions are opt-in, many union members are forced to fund the Democrats’ political infrastructure while they personally support Republicans. In 2012, union member dues funded more than $170 million in spending on left-wing groups — such as the Center for American Progress, Planned Parenthood, and Media Matters — that provide the civic backdrop for Democratic Party politics.

Members who want out can’t just un-check a box. If you prefer to vote Republican, have a moral objection to abortion, or like Fox News and don’t want to fund these groups, the rules to get your money back are onerous. And unions push the boundaries of what’s legal to keep their money and power. Typically, to get a dues rebate, union members have to forfeit rights in the workplace and may still have to pay the union certain fees.

There is a better way. Currently, Congress is considering the Employee Rights Act, a bill that would require unions to get opt-in permission from members before spending their (often forced) dues money on political causes. This common-sense reform is widely supported: National polling shows that more than 80 percent of Americans back this paycheck protection effort.

It’s a basic value: People shouldn’t be put in the position of choosing between their jobs and their beliefs. And while (under a Supreme Court order) unions have begrudgingly offered their complicated opt-out system, the effect of these rules is clear. A large segment of union members are paying to support candidates and political causes — unrelated to collective bargaining, wages, or work rules — that they oppose in the voting booth.

And whose interest does that serve? Not that of union members, which is why national polling finds 83 percent of union households back paycheck protection. Indeed, the only interests served by funneling dissenting members’ dues into political causes are those of union bosses and politicians.

It’s time for paycheck protection and other sensible reforms in the Employee Rights Act to see the light of day. American workers deserve a labor relations environment designed for the 21st century. This act would give them that, and more rights in the workplace too.

Richard Berman is executive director of the Center for Union Facts.

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