KATHLEEN KLAMUT DOESN'T want her money used to keep abortionists in business. A psychologist with the Ravenna City School District in Ohio, she has fought state and local teachers unions in a dispute over dues deducted from her paycheck that go to elect pro-abortion candidates. But when she requested to have all of her dues diverted to charity, as is her right under law, the union said no--even though Mrs. Klamut had won a similar, two-year battle in the Louisville, Ohio, district in 1999. In March 2002, Mrs. Klamut filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Robert Beers also wants control over his money. In 2000, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) threatened to have him fired from his job as an electrical technician at Lockheed Martin in Orlando. That's because Mr. Beers, a 46-year-old Southern Baptist, didn't want his dues to finance IAM's political support of abortion, homosexuality, and pornography. In 2000, after enduring a series of intimidating letters and intrusive questionnaires about his faith, he filed a complaint with the EEOC, and followed that this year with a federal lawsuit against the IAM.
Ohio teacher Dennis Robey is about to get control over his money. Last month he reached an agreement requiring the National Education Association (NEA) and its Ohio affiliates to halt religious discrimination and harassment in that state. But how that agreement came about, and its implications, needs some explanation.
First, here's the perspective of labor union leaders. They note that big chunks of the required dues pay the salaries of staffers who negotiate collective bargaining agreements with employers, mediate disputes between companies and union workers, and press for employee benefits like health insurance and vacations to be administered properly. They say that pressure to pay dues is important, because "selfish" workers might concoct some bogus philosophical difference to avoid paying.
That's why, in states without laws prohibiting them, "agency shop" rules are common in collective bargaining agreements: To get and keep a job, workers must either join the recognized employee union, or pay compulsory amounts called "fair-share" or "agency fees." The fees protect unions from "free riders"-employees who benefit from union services without paying for them. Agency fee-payers are not union members but pay unions an amount equivalent to dues, less a small refund said to equal the amount used for union politics.
As unions have made good on their initial objectives-shorter work days, safe working conditions, and so on-many have moved on to funding liberal causes such as abortion-on-demand and school-based sexual-health clinics, opposing conservative causes such as school choice and welfare reform, and strongly supporting liberal candidates. Federal Election Commission records show that union political action committees over the past decade gave more than $362 million to Democrats and only $25 million to Republicans. Union leaders say they're representing their members, but about one-third of union members voted Republican in this month's elections.
Now, here's the perspective of Dennis Robey, who works in an "agency shop" state. In his 25th year as an industrial arts teacher in the Huber Heights City School District near Dayton, Ohio, Mr. Robey was an active member of Huber Heights Education Association, the Ohio Education Association, and the NEA until 1995. But that was the year he found in his school mailbox an NEA publication called Deceptions by the Radical Right Against the National Education Association.
"As I read the publication, I decided that I needed to look further into what the union stood for," Mr. Robey told the U.S. House Committee on Education and Workforce Subcommittee in June 2002. He did look into it--and found himself in direct religious opposition to official NEA resolutions on "reproductive freedom," confidential school-based family planning, and restrictions on parental choices in education. Mr. Robey, a Church of God member in Springfield, Ohio, learned from the Focus on the Family magazine Teachers in Focus that he could request from the union a "religious accommodation"--which can include an exemption from union membership, and from paying to the union some or all required fees.
Workers are entitled to such accommodations under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The act prohibits employers and labor unions from discriminating against workers or adversely affecting their employment based on religion. Following passage of the act, the EEOC ruled that companies and unions must make "reasonable" religious accommodations that do not result in "undue hardship" on the business. Failure to do so is religious discrimination. Congress put an even finer point on the matter with the 1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act. That law defines "religion" as including "all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief."
The U.S. Supreme Court case Chicago Teachers Union vs. Hudson (1986) established that the logic of an employee's religious beliefs, if sincerely held, is not at issue in determining disposition of his money. The watershed 1988 case, Communication Workers of America vs. Beck, then broadened the scope of conscientious objection, establishing the right of any worker--religious or not--to refuse to finance union politics with which he disagrees. In Beck, the Supreme Court ruled that objecting workers are entitled to a refund of that portion of dues not used by the union for collective bargaining and related activities.
But, as Mr. Robey found out, such rights do not prevent unions from denying religious accommodation requests, challenging workers' religious beliefs in court, or, at minimum, dragging their feet for years. From 1995 through 2000, he requested each January that his agency fees be diverted to charity. (Workers may also request nonmonetary accommodations such as time off for Sabbath or other religious observances.)
The first year, the union quickly granted Mr. Robey's accommodation request--but kept his money, deducted automatically from his paycheck at the beginning of each school year, in an interest-bearing escrow account. At the end of the school year, the union forwarded the money to a charity--mutually agreed upon by Mr. Robey and the union--but kept the interest. During 1996-97 and 1997-98, the union took at least eight months to send Mr. Robey's money (without the interest) to the charity.
In the 1998-99 school year, the union came up with a new requirement: a lengthy questionnaire that asked for data on church affiliation, documents that validated Mr. Robey's religious objections to union policies, and the signature of a pastor or "other religious official." The union that time took 13 months to grant Mr. Robey's request, and 14 months to send his money (but not the interest) to the charity.
By that time Mr. Robey, assisted by the National Right to Work Foundation (NRTW) in Washington, D.C., had filed the first of two complaints with the EEOC. Even while his complaints were pending, he continued to have to justify his religious beliefs to the union via the laborious questionnaire. Meanwhile, the union continued taking his money. Finally, in the EEOC-brokered conciliation agreement last month, the NEA and its Ohio affiliates agreed to cease paper-grilling of religious objectors.
Mackinac Public Policy Center's Robert Hunter, a former National Labor Relations Board member, calls the right of workers to withhold their money from union politics "one of the best kept secrets in modern day labor relations." But if other teachers fight as Mr. Robey did, and as Ohio-type agreements arise in other states, what's now a secret will be shouted from rooftops--and Big Labor could be left staring at a multimillion-dollar annual hole in its political war chest.
Charles Baird, an economist at California State University Hayward (CSU), has just finished, at least for now, a long battle. Scores of CSU faculty--including Jews, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, and people of other religions--requested accommodations after the California government, controlled by Democrats, made agency fees mandatory in 2000. But the California Faculty Association (CFA), which represents CSU professors, granted accommodations only to Seventh Day Adventists, since it's a settled matter of case law that the Seventh Day Adventist Church objects officially to unionism among its members. CFA routinely denied accommodations to people like Mr. Baird who professed individual beliefs.
In 1999, Mr. Baird proclaimed his opposition to CFA's abortion cheerleading and requested that his agency fees be diverted to charity. CFA responded with a form letter that turned him down flat. Mr. Baird, a specialist in labor law and relations, fought back. In February 2000, he and two other CSU professors filed suit in federal district court in San Francisco. Represented by NRTW, they argued, among other things, that California's mandatory agency shop law was a violation of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law, since no other state laws created union security for California public education employees.
That argument "caught the immediate attention of the unions and the politicians in their thrall," Mr. Baird says. Within 30 days, the Democrat-controlled California legislature passed SB1960, a bill extending mandatory agency shop requirements to all Golden State public education employees, not just CSU faculty. Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat who received massive cash infusions from organized labor during his 1998 gubernatorial run, signed SB1960 into law in September 2000.
That rendered Mr. Baird's 14th Amendment argument moot, since SB1960 ensured that all public education employees enjoyed the same "protection" under the law. Two months later, Judge William Shubb sided with CFA on all issues, including that of religious accommodation. In the judge's view, CFA had acted appropriately in denying plaintiffs' accommodation requests because it had determined that their beliefs were not "sincerely held."
Mr. Baird immediately filed a complaint with the EEOC. The agency agreed that CFA had violated his right to religious liberty and recommended that CFA grant his accommodation. The union did--in March 2002, more than two years after he had originally requested it. To date, he is the only Roman Catholic to whom the CFA has granted a religious accommodation.
Why don't more people like Mr. Baird object to funding the political agenda of labor union leaders? It may be because they don't know they can. An April 1996 Luntz Research survey of 1,000 union members showed that 78 percent were not aware of their right to receive a dues refund under Beck. The poll further revealed that one in five union members would "definitely" request a refund, while more than half said they were "likely" to request one.
In 1992, President George H.W. Bush issued an executive order requiring employers to inform workers of their Beck rights. His administration estimated that widespread requests for dues refunds could cut off as much as $2.4 billion annually in union political funding, including cash and soft money contributions. Labor leaders disputed that figure, saying unions spend less than $1 billion a year on politics and related activities.
Supreme Court case law holds that unions must provide to their members a detailed accounting of how dues are spent. But Robert Hunter has reviewed about 200 accounting reports from the Michigan Education Association, the United Auto Workers, the Association of State, Federal, City and Municipal Employees, and other unions. He said most were vague at best and, sometimes, untruthful about the percentage of dues unions spend on political activities. The U.S. Supreme Court found in one case that 78 percent of dues were not necessary for the union to complete its collective bargaining activities; in another case the figure was 90 percent.
Mr. Hunter believes unions deliberately withhold from workers information on their objector rights to protect their political cash flow. Bill Clinton rescinded the first President Bush's Beck order within a month of taking office. Shortly after taking over Mr. Clinton's job in 2001, George W. Bush issued a new executive order similar to his dad's. Union leaders immediately sued to squelch it. That suit is still pending in a Washington, D.C., appeals court.
EEOC attorney Awo Sarpong told WORLD her agency is reaching out to workers to inform them of their rights under Beck and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The agency also is working on a new compliance manual with a section on religious discrimination.
Greg Fox and Fred Jones may wish the manual had been published sooner. Mr. Fox is a journeyman mechanic who works for the Lear Corporation in Edinburgh, Ind. After Mr. Fox, a Reformed Presbyterian, refused to join a United Auto Workers (UAW) local in 2000, union leaders threatened to have him fired. Mr. Fox said one UAW official told him, "I've heard about your religious accommodation request. You're not going to get it and I don't want to hear anything else about it." Mr. Fox prevailed in 2000 with the help of NRTW and the EEOC.
Fred Jones, a Blacksburg, Va., munitions worker, in 1996 refused to join the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International (OCAWI) because of the union's pro-abortion, pro-gay political stance. The union threatened to have him fired. In 1998, at NRTW's request, the EEOC filed suit in federal court against OCAWI. As the cased progressed, a platoon of union attorneys attempted to discredit Mr. Jones in depositions with questions like "Did you ever watch dirty movies?" and "Have you ever been involved in prostitution?" They even sent an investigator to grill Mr. Jones's Baptist pastor, who refused to cooperate and ultimately was dragged into court. In 1999, OCAWI settled and paid Mr. Jones $20,000 in damages.
Meanwhile, Florida electrical technician Robert Beers is still fighting the machinists' union. But school psychologist Kathleen Klamut on Nov. 19 received a letter from the Ohio Education Association. The letter granted her religious accommodation request, but added, "We are not acknowledging the sincerity of your professed beliefs, nor are we acknowledging that the law requires us to grant this accommodation."
NRTW director of legal information Dan Cronin said the letter showed that "even when the law is put right in the unions' face in black and white, they will still deny it. It's obvious that as long as they hold these kinds of attitudes, unions will continue to discriminate against people of faith. It shows why we have to keep fighting."