Op-Ed

Gingrich: Congress’ priority should be addressing worker rights

No matter what party they supported, all Americans had something to celebrate the morning after Election Day: the end of political ads.

For months, we have been bombarded with them every time we turn on our televisions, computer screens and car radios. And while we all share in the joy of returning to regularly scheduled programming, one group of Americans is especially happy: union members. Millions of them were forced to fund political ads through their union dues, even if they opposed the candidates their money is going to support.

That’s because political spending by union leadership is far more lopsided than the ideological makeup of the unions in general. Election exit polls indicated that 38 percent of voters from union households voted for Republican representatives, while 60 percent voted for Democratic ones. Compare that with the political contributions by the unions themselves. According to data from OpenSecrets and FollowTheMoney, nearly 90 percent of them went to Democrats in 2014.

This means that some union members are funding politicians who want to put them out of a job. Take coal miners, for example. Their union, the United Mine Workers of America, donated $50,000 to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s House Majority PAC in 2012 and 2013, despite its platform bent on destroying the coal industry. It sent roughly $20,000 to anti-coal Democrats including Pelosi and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. This was in addition to dues the union paid the AFL-CIO, which itself gave hundreds of thousands to groups linked to Democrats.

The union leadership is spending members’ paychecks on candidates who literally would put coal miners out of their jobs if given the chance – and in many states it’s all but impossible for individual members to stop it.

Construction workers face the same injustice, with millions of dollars of their union dues going to support politicians who are blocking construction of the Keystone XL pipeline – a project that would create more than 4,000 jobs in the construction industry.

The United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, for instance, has written some big checks – at least $2.7 million worth – to the anti-Keystone party using its members’ money. That included $1.25 million to the pro-Obama SuperPAC, $500,000 to the president’s inaugural committee, $450,000 to Pelosi’s House Majority PAC and $500,000 to Harry Reid’s Senate Majority PAC.

The union’s PAC chipped in over $1.4 million to various other Democrat candidates – even as the president and the Democrat-controlled Senate have refused to approve the pipeline.


The practice of taking money from workers’ paychecks to spend on political causes they don’t support is both abusive and a violation of basic fairness. Congress should put an end to it.

The paycheck protection provision of the Employee Rights Act, now before Congress, would ensure that unions get explicit permission from members to spend their dues on political purposes. The bill was introduced in the Senate by Orrin Hatch (it’s co-sponsored by Lamar Alexander, ranking member on the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee) and by Tom Price in the House.

Like paycheck protection, the other provisions of the Employee Rights Act are all common sense, like guaranteeing a secret ballot on important decisions such as whether to join a union and whether to strike, as well as requiring that unions be recertified periodically so all employees get a say in whether they’ll be paying union dues. One analysis of government data found that less than 10 percent of currently-unionized employees had the opportunity to vote for their union.

The next Congress should make it a priority to pass the Employee Rights Act. While all Americans are resigned to the fact that they will be bombarded with political ads next election cycle, no Americans should be forced to finance them – especially if it could put them out of a job.

Newt Gingrich is former speaker of the House and an adviser to the Center for Union Facts.

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