How many unions are still charging dues to their unemployed members during the COVID-19 outbreak? That’s a question that some House Republicans are asking—and it’s a good one. While unions have been aggressively presenting themselves as the workers’ protectors during the COVID-19 crisis, it is unclear how many have been providing workers with the one form of financial relief that is directly in their power to bestow.
“Every dollar counts, so we are writing to ask if the AFL-CIO and its affiliate unions are collecting union dues from unemployed workers, as well as dues checkoff from the paychecks of employees who work at businesses receiving federal loans created by Congress to help keep workers on the payroll,” asked North Carolina’s Virginia Foxx and Michigan’s Tim Walberg in a letter Tuesday to several prominent labor leaders, including the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka. Foxx is the Education and Labor Committee’s top-ranking Republican and Walberg serves on it as well.
The letter cited news reports that some unions like Las Vegas’ Culinary Union Local 226, one of the most powerful in Nevada, have waived dues for their members, while other others like UNITE HERE Local 11, which represents people in Arizona and southern California, continue to charge their unemployed members. The unions have yet to respond to the lawmakers’ inquiry, Politico reports.
The GOP letter comes a week after unions pushed Democrats to walk back legislation that would have altered a provision of the Paycheck Protection Program. The provision said that PPP loans could only be forgiven if 75 percent of the funds went toward retaining workers. Businesses had argued that the requirement rendered the loans of little use to most businesses since they could not use them to pay other bills and debts created by the crisis. A business cannot support many workers if it cannot stay open in the first place, they noted.
The Democrats’ support for eliminating the requirement collapsed at about the same time that unions announced their opposition. The effort was led by the service workers union UNITE HERE, which has seen 98 percent of its members out of work, according to report last month by Business Insider. The House legislation was instead rewritten to drop the requirement to 60 percent.
Unions claimed they were trying to protect workers, but Foxx and Walberg noted that this also benefitted them financially by ensuring that their rank and file members could still pay dues. “Those government loans should be used for that express purpose—to support businesses in the short term and help fund the wages of their workers—rather than having a portion siphoned off to benefit a private, third party organization,” the lawmakers said.