- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2001

By Stefan GleasonPresident George W. Bush's executive order requiring federal contractors to post notices informing employees of their right not to fund union political activities may lead some in Washington to declare victory over Big Labor. That would be tantamount to a football team declaring victory after winning the coin toss.

In reality, the president's largely symbolic gesture is only a small first step toward defending America's working men and women against the abuses of compulsory unionism.

Experts estimate that during the year 2000 elections, union officials spent approximately $800 million on soft money and in-kind political activities, nearly all of it paid for out of union dues seized as a condition of employment. And while more than 95 percent of that money went to help Democrat candidates, including Al Gore, about 40 percent of union members voted for President Bush.

Mr. Bush's executive order, while well-intentioned, does not lift the weight of federal labor law off the backs of those working men and women. Good intentions must be accompanied by substantive action. Appointing members to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) who will actually enforce these workers' rights would be a start. Ending forced unionism altogether should be next.

The Bush executive order instructs federal contractors (who employ 22 percent of private sector workers) to post a written notice informing workers of their rights under the U.S. Supreme Court decision Communications Workers of America vs. Beck, won by National Right to Work Foundation attorneys in 1988. Under Beck, employees may reclaim all forced union dues used for activities unrelated to collective bargaining, like politics.

Mr. Bush's father issued a virtually identical executive order in 1992 that was immediately revoked at the request of union officials as President Clinton took office in 1993. Mr. Clinton's actions successfully kept workers in the dark. In 1996, a Luntz Research survey showed that 78 percent of union members had yet to hear of their Beck rights.

The Clinton administration's NLRB also stonewalled the enforcement of these precious employee protections, leaving many cases languishing within the bureaucracy for six or more years.

But even with full enforcement, the Beck precedent is not a cure-all. Under Beck, workers often face a tremendous burden. They can be forced to endure seemingly endless red tape from government bureaucrats and harassment from union officials. In some cases, workers' attorneys must review thousands of documents, spend hundreds of hours interrogating recalcitrant union officials and organize massive piles of evidence for trial. Meanwhile, well-funded union lawyers incessantly stonewall, conceal and retaliate against the employees and their attorneys.

The late Justice Hugo Black foresaw this problem in 1961 when he opined that any form of compelled "agency shop" was unconstitutional, and he criticized the process that allows workers only a partial refund of compulsory union dues.

In his dissent in Machinists vs. Street, he wrote: "It may be that courts and lawyers with sufficient skills in accounting, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus will be able to extract the proper microscopic answer from the voluminous and complex accounting records of local, national, and international unions involved. It seems to me, however, that this formula, with its attendant trial burdens, promises little hope for financial recompense of individual workers whose First Amendment freedoms have been flagrantly violated." Justice Black understood that federal labor law is stacked against individual workers who, in order to protect their constitutional rights, must do battle against giant unions with unlimited financial resources.

Thus, the answer is to attack compulsory unionism abuse at its root, not fashion new regulatory schemes and government bureaucracies to regulate its ill-effects. (Many are watching Mr. Bush to see whether he will make good on his pledge to advocate the National Right to Work Act in Congress, a measure that would repeal federal authorization of compulsory unionism, thereby restoring employees' freedom to choose whether to join or support a union.)

Ultimately, a National Right to Work Foundation case may lead the Supreme Court to declare the union privilege of exclusive representation itself unconstitutional, or to go beyond the Beck approach and declare forced dues entirely unconstitutional as Justice Black recommended. (The latter of these two goals could be achieved by a pending Foundation case, Belhumeur vs. Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission, now on petition for a writ of certiorari before the Supreme Court.)

Although union officials are publicly criticizing Mr. Bush's executive order, it's a safe bet that their reaction behind closed doors is more subdued. They realize that this largely symbolic act will have only a small impact on their ability to collect forced union dues. And they also understand that it takes political pressure off politicians and judges to make more substantive changes to America's draconian labor laws.

America's working people deserve much more.

Stefan Gleason is vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

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