Saturday, January 31, 2009

President Obama Repeals Order That Informed Workers of Their Rights

The Chicago Tribune reports that President Obama has signed an Executive Order reversing a Bush Administration rule that required businesses to notify workers of certain rights under Federal Law. At issue is a worker's right of a refund of compulsory dues payments that the Union wishes to use for political advocacy, and not collective bargaining. President Bush recognized the right in Executive Order 13201, which required certain federal contractors to post a notice that workers possess such rights.

Here is Executive Order 13201 and the order that, among other things, repeals it:

Here is the story in the Tribune:

In Communications Workers v. Beck, 487 U.S. 35 (1988) the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Brennan, held that Federal Labor Law requires Unions to provide pro-rata refunds of compulsory dues to employees who object to particular political expenditures. Hence, a liberal democrat union member can receive such a refund if his union endorses Ronald Reagan and attempts to use compulsory dues to fund an advertising campaign in his favor. Beck relied by analogy upon earlier decisions that read similar statutes narrowly to avoid First Amendment questions that would be raised by state ation compelling individuals to support political causes to which they objected. Indeed, in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, for instance, the Court held unanimously that Michigan could not compell public employees to pay union dues that were then used for political purposes. The Abood Court quoted the admonition of Thomas Jefferson that the state ought not coerce individuals into supporting ideas they abhor.

According to Jefferson: "to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.'"

Of course, Abood itself only applies in cases in which there is state action compelling unionization, thus bringing the Bill of Rights into play. Decisions such as Beck read similar principles into Federal Labor Law that applies to bargaining agreements between purely private enterprises and their employees.

You might not know any of this from the Tribune's story (or any others that I could find). Instead, the current version of the Tribune story describes the order by stating that it would

"Reverse a Bush administration order requiring federal contractors to post notice that workers can limit financial support of unions serving as their exclusive bargaining representatives."

Given what was involved in Beck, this seems like an incomplete description of the impact of President Obama's order. Failure to support a union's political speech and electioneering is not the same thing as "limit[ing] financial support of unions." Even under the now repealed Executive Order 13201, employees in agency shops could be compelled to support the Union's collective bargaining activities, even if they were not members of the union.