Missouri’s paycheck protection bills would further discourage workers’ participation in the political process

MO-deceptionMissouri’s two proposed “paycheck protection” bills would restrict political spending by organized workers while enabling unlimited corporate political spending, a new EPI Policy Center report finds. In The ‘paycheck protection’ racket: Tilting the political playing field toward corporate power and away from working Americans, EPI Research Associate Gordon Lafer explains that though proponents of Missouri’s Senate Bill 29 and House Bill 64 claim the bills would increase workers’ autonomy over how their wages are spent, in actuality, they would silence workers’ voices and continue the long-term effort to restrict the role of collective bargaining in politics.

Neither SB29 nor HB64, dubbed “paycheck protection” by supporters, would provide Missouri employees with any new rights they do not possess under existing law. Both federal and state law protect employees—whether in the private sector or the public—from being forced to pay to support a political cause they oppose. However, SB29 and HB64 would make it more difficult for employees to authorize how their union dues are allocated. SB29 prohibits any amount of union dues being paid through payroll deductions—no matter what the dues are used for—unless each individual employee signs a personal authorization form every year. The bill also prevents employees from authorizing dues on an ongoing basis without having to fill out an annual form and forces them to fill out a second annual form to contribute dues that support their union’s political advocacy. HB64 similarly requires employees to submit annual written authorization before any of their dues may be used for political purposes.

Enacting SB29 and HB64 would further tilt the political playing field toward big corporations by imposing restrictions on workers’ political activity while leaving corporations free to engage in unlimited political spending.  While the nation’s largest corporate lobbies—including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Federation of Independent Business—have been promoting such measures for at least the past 15 years in various states, these groups vigorously oppose proposals that would similarly restrict their abilities to donate to political campaigns.

Further, these lobbies have actively opposed a real instance of what might be termed “paycheck protection”—a guarantee that employees are actually paid the wages they have legally earned. The average low-wage worker loses $2,634 per year in unpaid wages, representing 15 percent of their earned income. Rather than support legislative efforts to address this wage theft, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and allied business lobbies have worked to prevent their implementation. Despite supporters of paycheck protection rhetoric in support of workers’ rights, the effort is actually part of a broader corporate agenda of economic reform, which includes eliminating the minimum wage, stripping employees of the right to paid sick leave and making it harder for employees to file suit over job discrimination.

“These ‘paycheck protection’ proposals reflect corporate lobbies’ unabashed attempts to enact a broad corporate economic agenda by crippling the ability of workers to participate in the political process,” said Lafer.  “Because the labor movement is the only vehicle through which millions of working Americans collectively pool sufficient resources—in the form of both financial contributions and organized volunteer efforts—to serve as an effective political counterweight to this agenda, eliminating union political activity promises to leave the corporate lobbies with an increasingly free hand to shape economic policy at the expense of workers.”

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is an independent, nonprofit think tank that researches the impact of economic trends and policies on working people in the United States.

Gordon Lafer is a political economist and is an Associate Professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center.  He has written widely on issues of labor and employment policy, and is author of The Job Training Charade (Cornell University Press, 2002).

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