Since 2010, right-wing governors and legislators have attacked workers’ rights across the Midwest. These attacks have come in different forms: from stripping public workers’ collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin to an all-out ban on fair share contracts in Michigan and Indiana.
In Missouri, extremist legislators and their corporate backers are taking a different tactic. They are pushing paycheck deception bills, which limit how union workers can make their voices heard in the political process.
Proponents of paycheck deception are counting on the public to be uninformed (or misinformed) about what these bills actually do. So here are 10 things you should know about paycheck deception:
Paycheck deception laws create unfair regulations. These laws require labor organizations to go through burdensome bureaucratic hoops in order to deduct dues from members’ paychecks and to use that money for political advocacy. No other corporation, CEO or other organization has similar restrictions. The sole intent is to force the union to spend more resources collecting dues so that they have less ability to advocate for workers at workplaces and in politics.
Paycheck deception laws limit free speech. These laws apply rules to union members that don’t apply to any other organization. A business that belongs to a Chamber of Commerce, for instance, can’t opt-out of paying annual dues and still belong to the Chamber. Similarly, a shareholder in a corporation has absolutely no say in how that corporation spends money in politics. Essentially, paycheck deception laws say that the government has more say in how union workers spend their money than the workers themselves.
Paycheck deception laws have, and have always had, one purpose: attack unions. California school voucher activists who wanted to weaken the local teachers’ union first used paycheck deception as a tactic in 1998. These laws have always been about weakening unions and those who speak up for workers. They have never been about protecting workers or giving workers a “choice.”
Proponents call them “paycheck protection” laws. The people who push these laws want you to think these laws protect workers, when in fact they just protect the CEOs and special interests that don’t want any opposition from organized labor. The “protection” they are implying already exists, as union members already collectively decide how their money is spent. “Their transparent motive is not to protect workers, but to silence them by diminishing their collective voice,” wrote Joshua Rosencranz of the Brennan Center for Justice.
Paycheck protection laws are not “campaign finance reform.” Supporters of these laws often try to sell them as campaign finance reform. If anything, by forcing unions to follow one set of rules while ignoring corporations, these laws tilt the political playing field further toward corporate interests.
Union members already have a choice. No worker in the United States can be forced to join a union. Period. Furthermore, unions already have a process by which members can opt-out of having their dues used for political activity. As democratic organizations, union members already collectively decide how their dues money is spent—and like our elections, majority rules.
Union members are not calling for these laws. While arguing for paycheck deception in Missouri, legislators claimed they had talked to union workers who felt coerced by the current deduction process but failed to produce them. No union workers testified in favor of the Missouri bill. In fact, a recent Hart Research poll found that 75 percent of union members want their deductions to be used to advocate for the middle class in the political arena.
Paycheck deception laws hurt donations to nonprofits. By firing a broadside attack at unions, paycheck deception laws restrict all kinds of paycheck deductions: direct deposit, 401(k) and charitable deductions. Many union members voluntarily donate to organizations like the United Way through paycheck deductions—these laws would make that process more difficult.
Paycheck deception laws are often found unconstitutional. In Alabama, Arizona and Washington, paycheck deception laws were ruled unconstitutional by state Supreme Courts.The laws frequently violate the First Amendment—since union workers already have the choice to opt-out of their unions’ political activity. If Missouri passes this law, they will have to waste more taxpayer money defending it at court—they’ll probably lose.
Politicians admit that paycheck deception laws are a stepping stone to further union restrictions. Missouri Speaker Tim Jones admitted that while “there are other ways to skin a cat” to limit union workers’ political power, paycheck deception “a way to get to the ultimate goal of right to work.” Patrick Werner of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity also called paycheck deception a “first step” to making Missouri a “right to work” state.
So-called “right to work” laws ban fair share clauses in contracts, forcing unions to represent workers whether or not they pay dues—another tactic used to weaken unions.
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