Federal statutes grant Big Labor extraordinary power over individual workers. Except in right-to-work states, union officials can have workers fired for refusing to fork over forced union dues.
But at least in theory, Big Labor cannot to use workers' forced-dues money to advance a political agenda that those workers oppose. Under Communication Workers of America v. Beck and other court precedents won by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, forced-dues-paying employees who don't belong to a union have the right to opt out of paying union dues for political activities.
The Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Beck nearly a quarter-century ago. Unfortunately, this modest limitation on Big Labor's forced-dues power is now being assaulted by President Obama's National Labor Relations Board.
The five-seat NLRB currently has three members, all Obama appointees, who possess regulatory power over the vast majority of private workplaces. Last month, NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce and members Richard Griffin and Sharon Block issued a ruling in United Nurses and Allied Professionals v. Jeanette Geary that contradicts Beck and its progeny.
Geary gives union bosses a green light to circumvent Beck's prohibition of the use of nonunion employees' dues for politics. According to the Obama NLRB, it's OK for union chiefs to force objecting nonmembers to subsidize union lobbying activity as long as it "may ultimately inure to the benefit" of the employees subject to union monopoly bargaining.
Of course, Big Labor always claims its political lobbying eventually benefits unionized workers, whether it does or not. Moreover, the Obama NLRB has already proved very receptive even to the most extravagant claims made by union officials. According to an analysis by labor-management attorney John Doran, if Geary stands, the Obama NLRB will "determine that the vast majority of [union-boss] lobbying expenses may be charged to Beck objectors."
Moreover, because Pearce, Griffin and Block declined to set an exact new standard for permissible forced-dues lobbying expenditures by union officials, the Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorney who argued Geary before the NLRB cannot even file an appeal.
Veteran right-to-work attorneys believe the prospects for eventually overturning the NLRB's outrageous Geary decision are good. Nevertheless, this power grab illustrates how even the minimal free-speech rights established by Beck nearly 25 years ago remain precarious for independent-minded workers today.
As long as federal labor policy authorizes union officials to extract forced union dues from millions of unwilling employees, the freedom of workers to refuse to bankroll political and ideological causes with which they disagree will be in danger. Long experience has shown that no level of oversight will deter unscrupulous union officials from using nonmember workers' dues for politics when they think they can get away with it.
Meanwhile, nearly two dozen states permit union officials to have civil servants, including teachers, fired for refusing to pay union dues or fees. Their First Amendment freedom not to finance candidates and causes they oppose is also infringed by biased labor laws.
No citizen, whether he or she is a worker, a small-business owner, a student, a housewife or a retiree, should ever be "compelled" (to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson) "to furnish contributions for the propagation of opinions" that he or she "disbelieves and abhors."
To stop what Jefferson properly called a "sinful and tyrannical" practice, forced union dues should be abolished. This can be done through congressional approval of a national right-to-work law and through enactment of state right-to-work laws in all 50 states.
Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.