GOP vows to continue nationwide ‘paycheck protection’ push

Monday, June 8, 1998

While Democrats hail the defeat of California's Proposition 226 as a First Amendment victory, GOP leaders call it a major blow to free-association rights and promise to continue a nationwide push to require unions to get members' approval to use dues for political purposes.

Last week, California voters rejected the ballot initiative 53% to 47%. Labeled “paycheck protection” by its supporters, the measure would have required unions, which traditionally support Democrats, to obtain members' permission every year before spending dues on politics.

Union leaders and Democrats defend the political use of dues as an exercise of free-assembly rights. They call measures such as Proposition 226 “paycheck deception,” saying they take decision-making out of the hands of unions.

The measure's proponents cite the First Amendment as well, saying the initiative would have protected the individual's right of association by assuring him or her the ability to request a refund of dues not used for collective bargaining.

Rights aside, union leaders say such measures are redundant, since the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1988 case Communications Workers of America v. Beck already said union workers may claim partial refunds.

In a prepared statement, Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee, expressed disappointment over the proposition's defeat.

“The bad news is that Washington union bosses spent $20 million of workers' money spreading lies and distortion to defeat paycheck protection,” Nicholson said. “The good news is that's $20 million they won't be able to spend to spread lies and distortion” about Republicans in Congress.

He said current laws haven't kept unions from refusing to make the refunds. He said efforts will continue to pass similar measures in other states and at the national level.

“We'll force them to spend in state after state, because no American should be forced to give money to a politician or a political cause against his or her will. Ultimately, the power of union bosses to take people's money without permission will be curbed.”

John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, noted that Proposition 226 enjoyed a 72% approval rate three months before the vote but gradually lost support as an intense campaign began.

“The defeat of Proposition 226 sends a clear message about the prospects of other such worker-bashing initiatives in other states, and the message is, simply put: 'Pounding working families is a losing proposition.'” Sweeney said. “Nowhere has this so-called 'nationwide movement' succeeded.”

Four states—Idaho, Wyoming, Michigan and Washington—already have versions of paycheck protection in place, but supporters and opponents focused on California as the measure's first real battleground.

Michael Kamburowski, director of special projects for Americans for Tax Reform, said the movement to require unions to get annual notification from their members remains alive in at least 26 other states.

Three states—Nevada, Oregon and Colorado—have referendums in place for November, Kamburowski said. He said unions likely wouldn't be able to outspend their opponents in these states.

“It's truly a nationwide movement, a multi-year movement,” he said. “We're working on more initiatives for legislative sessions next January, and we're going ahead with possibly another initiative in California. Paycheck protection is alive and well.”