If you’ve ever signed up for a magazine subscription, cable TV, or purchased something from an infomercial, you’ve probably encountered the automatic renewal process. After the initial subscription period ends, some companies continue charging you until you jump through myriad time-consuming hoops. And you may never get your money back.
There’s another group that gets away with automatic renewals every day in Arizona, but the consequences are far greater. Year after year, unions take dues from the paychecks of government workers without ever asking them for permission. The unions then spend the millions of dollars raked in from automatic renewals to fund political warfare their own members oppose.
The Arizona Legislature is considering a bill that would change that.
HB 2103 would require unions to get members’ permission every year before taking dues from their paychecks.
It’s a popular reform. A recent poll found that nearly 80 percent of union households opposed unions spending money on political activism without first obtaining members’ permission.
Under Arizona law, once you’ve joined a government-employee union, you’re never asked again if you’d like to continue authorizing paycheck deductions. Among other things, those deductions go to fund the union’s political activism, which may directly conflict with your political beliefs and have little to do with your job.
For instance, the Service Employees International Union, which represents more than one million local and state government workers, public school employees and bus drivers nationally, spent much of 2010 organizing boycotts of Arizona in the wake of SB 1070, the immigration legislation overwhelmingly supported by Arizonans.
In California, the California Teacher’s Association put up over $1.25 million in 2008 to oppose Proposition 8, a state ballot initiative banning gay marriage that was ultimately approved by California voters.
And in this year’s presidential election, unions are expected to spend more than $400 million to re-elect Barack Obama.
These causes are not taken up on behalf of workers’ rights — they are the pet projects of political activists who have discovered that union dues are the golden ticket to advancing left-wing interests. This activism is bankrolled by abusing the trust of workers through paycheck deductions and, by extension, the taxpayers, who are funding the government mechanism the unions use to collect those dues.
If HB 2103 passes, public employees who want to contribute to their union will remain free to do so—the unions must simply ask for permission once a year. This is not unlike the process most private-sector workers experience annually when they reauthorize deductions for health insurance or retirement savings plans. It gives workers the chance to reevaluate whether the insurance company, retirement plan — or union — is worth the money.
The measure is not a new concept: A half dozen states have already passed similar paycheck protection measures, including union strongholds Michigan and Ohio.
But Big Labor is terrified. It will force them to justify to their members why they should continue to subsidize union bosses’ political activism.
If the results of paycheck protection laws in other states are any indication, the unions are right to be scared.
Within five years of the passage of Washington’s paycheck protection law in 1992, voluntary paycheck deductions to the state’s teachers’ union PAC had shrunk by 75 percent.
In Idaho, where paycheck protection legislation took effect in 2009, labor unions spent 15 percent less on state elections the following election cycle.
Four years after Utah’s paycheck protection legislation, less than 7 percent of Utah teachers were contributing to the teachers’ union’s political activism, down from nearly 70 percent.
Paycheck protection laws give government workers a greater voice.
In turn, unions will have to be more accountable to their members, and spend money only on activism that workers truly support.
HB 2103 will restore the balance of power to working Arizonans—public employees and taxpayers alike.
Darcy Olsen is the President and CEO of the Goldwater Institute.