Cover Story

Dues & don'ts

"Dues & don'ts" Continued...

Issue: "Unions: Dues and don'ts," Nov. 30, 2002

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 Bill Clinton rescinded the first President Bush's Beck order within a month of taking office.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."

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