(CNSNews.com) - Several labor unions have banded together in a federal court challenge to a Bush administration executive order designed to enforce a 1988 Supreme Court decision on workers' rights to get back the portion of their union used for political activities.
Put into place in February, the executive order requires federal contractors to post workplace notices informing workers about their legal right to decline union membership and to get back the portion of union dues used for political activities - which is no small sum.
In the 2000 election, unions spent about $75 million on direct "hard money" contributions to candidates for federal offices and about $800 million in "soft money" and other types of contributions. The soft money comes out of union dues. The lion's share of these contributions went to Democratic candidates.
Without any publicity or fanfare, the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the Office and Professional Employees International Union, along with several affiliates of the two unions, filed their suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on May 3.
The suit alleges the Bush administration exceeded constitutional and statutory authority in issuing the executive order. The unions are asking for a court injunction to halt the posting requirement.
The posting policy is intended to enforce the Supreme Court's 1988 decision in Communications Workers v. Beck, which established that employees can neither be compelled to formally join a union nor pay for union expenses unrelated to collective bargaining.
While workers can decline union membership, in some states, they can be required to pay the unions equivalent "agency fees" for purposes of collective bargaining.
Such a posting would be seen by about a quarter of all union workers, specifically those who work on contracts for the federal government, but the unions contend calling attention to Beck rights would harm them.
The required posting "is most naturally read as an employer admonition to employees not to join or be a member of the union, and to disassociate themselves from the union by objecting to paying full union dues," asserts the union lawsuit.
"Executive Order 13,201 would cause irreparable harm to the plaintiff unions," it said.
The legal challenge comes at a time when UAW membership has been sagging. In their most recent annual report, the UAW reported a membership of 671,853, down from 762,439, the year before.
The executive order vexing the unions has been somewhat of a political ping pong. First put in place by the previous Bush administration, it was promptly rescinded by President Clinton when he assumed office, and reinstated by the current administration.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a longtime union foe, is planning to get involved in opposing the UAW lawsuit.
"Union bosses don't want working Americans to find out that they can stop funding 'big labor's' massive political machine," remarked Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
Gleason believes the unions fear a "grassroots revolt" if more workers know they can reclaim a portion of their annual dues.
"This multi-union lawsuit demonstrates the total hypocrisy of union officials' claim that they are genuinely concerned about employee rights," Gleason said.
Neither the UAW nor the Employees International Union returned calls seeking comment.
See Earlier Stories:
Bush Labor Order Called 'Symbolic First Step' (April 19, 2001)
New Law Would Stop Forced Union Dues For Politics (May 11, 2001)