A Labor and Public Employees Committee bill set for a public hearing would allow the automatic deduction of union dues or political donations from pension checks.
The bill – An Act Concerning the Right of a Public Employee to Join or Support a Union – is the third attempt by the Labor Committee and unions to pass legislation that would give union representatives greater access to new and current employees and make dues authorization language on union membership cards a matter of state law.
According to the legislation, “Employees, including retired employees, of a public employer may authorize deductions to be made from their salaries, wages or retirement allowance for the payment of dues in, or for any other service, program or committee provided or sponsored by any public employee organization.”
How this might play out for retirees – whether or not public employees have to sign a new authorizations upon retirement or how a retiree can cease paying making those deductions — is not specified in the legislation.
According to the Connecticut Comptroller’s website, there are are only a “select few” optional deductions that can be made from a state employee’s pension, including one for a “retiree union.”
However, the inclusion of “committees” in the bill language would mean deductions can also be made to fund the unions’ political action committees, a deduction not currently listed for Connecticut state pensioners. Active union members can elect to have an additional fee taken from their pay to go toward a union PAC.
A similar bill passed in New York in 2003 allowed pensioners to forward portions of their income to union PACs.
In 2019, the teachers retirement system for both the state of New York and New York City deducted over $1.5 million in PAC donations for the teachers union. The New York City Teachers Retirement System also collected $12.6 million in union dues from retirees, according to figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request.
Currently, retired union members can continue to make contributions toward their union through separate programs.
AFSCME International, for instance, has a program called AFSCME Retirees in which retired union members can continue to make payments to the union. They even host annual retiree meetings.
Similarly, SEIU has its Workers United Retirees program that allows retirees to continue contributing to the union and its political action committee. Membership in SEIU’s program also includes membership in the Alliance for Retired Americans organization.
The organizations are largely political in nature, urging retired seniors to “protect and improve your retirement benefits” through lobbying Congress and state legislators, according to AFCSME Retirees.
SEIU’s Workers United Retirees asks that all members contribute to its political action committee Workers United for Political Power. In 2018 and 2020, nearly all of the Workers United funds — ranging from $460,000 to $520,000 — were transferred to SEIU, according to Open Secrets.
But the language contained in the bill before the Labor Committee would allow more direct funding of the unions’ political arms.
The bill before the Labor Committee is widely seen as pushback against the 2018 Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which ruled unions could no longer deduct fees – known as agency fees — from nonmembers as a condition of employment, allowing public employees to revoke their union membership and cease paying dues or fees.
According to National Right to Work Vice President Patrick Semmens, “Every aspect of this bill is designed to undermine public employees’ ability to exercise their First Amendment rights as recognized by the Supreme Court in the Janus v. AFSCME decision.”
Updated dues authorization cards included a specific window during which a public employee could cease having dues collected regardless of whether or not they were a union member – part of the fine print on the membership card.
According to AFSCME’s membership form, a member’s dues authorization “shall be irrevocable, regardless of whether I am or remain a member of the Union, for a period of one year from the date of execution or until the termination date of the collective bargaining agreement.”
Similarly, the American Federation of Teachers dues authorization is “irrevocable” unless the individual sends written notice to both employer and union during the month of February, otherwise the authorization automatically renews.
The dues authorization windows have led to legal challenges in Connecticut and other states, with the union often settling the matter before a court can issue a ruling.
The bill makes the union the sole arbiter of who to deduct dues from. The state or municipality must rely on guidance from the union when making deductions and the union is not required to show proof of an employee’s dues authorization unless a dispute arises.
“By gagging public employers from informing workers about their rights, while simultaneously forcing workers to go to the union in order to exercise their rights under the First Amendment, this bill is a recipe for more violations of workers’ Janus rights by putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse,” Semmens said.
Authorizations do not necessarily require a signature under the proposed legislation but can also use electronic and “voice authorization.”
The bill is scheduled for a public hearing before the Labor Committee on March 4, 2021. Similar legislation was passed by the committee in 2019 and 2020.
**This article was updated with comment from Patrick Semmens**