Elaine Chao: Union transparency “more important than Beck;” EFCA “terrible”

Today, at the Heritage Foundation blogger briefing, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao described the union transparency requirements introduced during the Bush administration as “more important than Beck.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1988 decision in CWA v. Beck is crucial in protecting individuals’ First Amendment right not to be forced to pay for speech or political activity with which they disagree. Under Beck, workers who are required to pay for union representation may reclaim the portion of their dues that are not used for representation purposes — which usually means the portion of their dues used for politics.

Of course, individual workers need to know precisely which portion of their dues is going to politics, which is why accurate and complete union financial reporting is important to rank-and-file members. Organized labor’s leadership fought the new requirements, claiming that they would impose huge administrative costs, but in fact the costs have been minimal for organizations as large as national labor unions.

Those financial reports are now available at unionreports.gov. Current Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, whose appointment was criticized because of her close ties to organized labor (including on this blog), could prove her impartiality by continuing and expanding this program — and she does have a lot to prove, given her past overwhelming support from unions.

Asked about the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), Chao described it as an effort by unions to turn the tide on their declining fortunes. “They are losing membership and clout, and they want to change the rules of the game,” she said. She added that Democrats in Congress, who got considerable help from organized labor in gaining their majority in 2006, and expanding it in 2008, want to reward that loyal constiutency.

Noting that EFCA’s first provision, which would have made secret ballots a dead letter in union organizing elections, might be dropped in the  of popular opposition, she warned, “but do not be comforted or assuaged, because the other amendments of this bill are anti-democratic, as well.”

She referred to EFCA’s binding arbitration provision, which would enjoin a federally appointed arbitrator to impose a contract on a newly unionized company if management and the union could not reach agreement on a contract after 120 days. Thus, “the union can hold out and not negotiate, because theyknow that after 120 days, the government will come in.”

“There is nothing in this bill that is worth salvaging,” she said. “This bill is terrible, in that it is employed by the Demorats to reward their allies.”

For more on binding arbitration, see here.