‘Get the Government Out of the Business of Being a Dues Collector’

As federal appellate judge Joel Flaum explained in a 2013 opinion upholding a ban on automatic payroll deduction of union dues, “nothing requires government to assist others in funding the expression of particular ideas . . . .” Image: Sally Ryan Photography

Even in Right to Work states, where Big Labor lacks forced-union-dues privileges, government union officials often wield inordinate power in the policy-making process. And taxpayers, students and other people who depend on public services, along with independent-minded employees whose interests don’t jibe with those of government union bosses, often suffer as a consequence.

A modest, but significant step elected officials in Right to Work states can take to level the playing field for ordinary citizens is to prohibit the automatic deduction of union dues from public employees’ paychecks. Laws already adopted over the course of the past few years in Right to Work states like North Carolina, Alabama and Oklahoma require teacher and other government union chiefs to make their own arrangements with union members regarding dues collections. In February, Iowa became the latest state to prohibit automatic union-dues deductions as part of a package of government-sector labor-policy reforms.

Of course, these statutes do not in any way limit the ability of members of government unions to pay dues to their labor organizations or contribute to union PACs. Moreover, they do not interfere with any legitimate prerogatives of unions as organizations. As federal appellate judge Joel Flaum explained in a 2013 opinion upholding one state’s ban on automatic payroll deduction of union dues, “nothing requires government to assist others in funding the expression of particular ideas … .” And, as Flaum also correctly observed, “use of a state’s payroll systems to collect union dues is a state subsidy of speech … .”

The National Right to Work Committee regularly supports passage of legislation banning automatic payroll deduction of government union dues in states that already have Right to Work laws on the books. However, such laws are of questionable utility in states where government union bosses retain the power to force public servants to pay dues or fees to their organization as a condition of employment.

Why does Big Labor ferociously defend its automatic-payroll-deduction privileges in Right to Work states? Experience shows that, once their employer ceases taking union dues out of their paychecks at taxpayers’ expense, and they have to take active measures to continue bankrolling the union, public employee union members often decide the organization does not merit their financial support. When ongoing union dues payments occur only after the employee  makes a conscious and considered choice, Big Labor bosses almost invariably end up with less money and political clout than they had before.

L.B.503, a measure now before the Nebraska Senate, the sole chamber in the Cornhusker State Legislature, would eliminate government union bosses’ automatic payroll-deduction privileges. But the union political machine, aided and abetted by self-serving politicians, is gearing up a campaign to block this reform. (See the news story linked below for more information.)

During a public hearing last week, L.B.503’s lead sponsor, state Sen. Tom Brewer, emphasized that his goal is simply to “get the government out of the business of being a dues collector.”

While the National Right to Work Committee regards the Brewer legislation as a step in the right direction and is for that reason supporting it, Committee legislative staffers are making it clear to Nebraska legislators that flat-out repeal of government-sector monopoly bargaining would be preferable.

In fact, the ideal means to level the playing field for Nebraska’s taxpayers and independent-minded public employees is to bar all forms of government-sector bargaining, as North Carolina and Virginia have done.

But L.B.503, if enacted, will in addition to representing an improvement over current policy raise hopes that more comprehensive government reform may be adopted in the future.

Nebraska Senators Weigh Ending Deductions for Union Dues

U.S. News & World ReportMar 20, 2017