10 Things You Should Know About Paycheck Deception

Since 2010, right-wing governors and legislators have attacked workers’ rights across the Midwest. These attacks have come in different forms: from stripping public workers’ collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin to an all-out ban on fair share contracts in Michigan and Indiana.

In Missouri, extremist legislators and their corporate backers are taking a different tactic. They are pushing paycheck deception bills, which limit how union workers can make their voices heard in the political process.

Proponents of paycheck deception are counting on the public to be uninformed (or misinformed) about what these bills actually do. So here are 10 things you should know about paycheck deception:

Paycheck deception laws create unfair regulations. These laws require labor organizations to go through burdensome bureaucratic hoops in order to deduct dues from members’ paychecks and to use that money for political advocacy. No other corporation, CEO, or other organization has similar restrictions. The sole intent is to force the union to spend more resources collecting dues so that they have less ability to advocate for workers at workplaces and in politics.

Paycheck deception laws limit free speech. These laws apply rules to union members that don’t apply to any other organization. A business that belongs to a Chamber of Commerce, for instance, can’t opt-out of paying annual dues and still belong to the Chamber. Similarly, a shareholder in a corporation has absolutely no say in how that corporation spends money in politics. Essentially, paycheck deception laws say that the government has more say in how union workers spend their money than the workers themselves.

Paycheck deception laws have, and have always had, one purpose: attack unions. California school voucher activists who wanted to weaken the local teachers’ union first used paycheck deception as a tactic in 1998. These laws have always been about weakening unions and those who speak up for workers. They have never been about protecting workers or giving workers a “choice.”

Proponents call them “paycheck protection” laws. The people who push these laws want you to think these laws protect workers, when in fact they just protect the CEOs and special interests that don’t want any opposition from organized labor. The “protection” they are implying already exists, as union members already collectively decide how their money is spent. “Their transparent motive is not to protect workers, but to silence them by diminishing their collective voice,” wrote Joshua Rosencranz of the Brennan Center for Justice.

Paycheck protection laws are not “campaign finance reform.” Supporters of these laws often try to sell them as campaign finance reform. If anything, by forcing unions to follow one set of rules while ignoring corporations, these laws tilt the political playing field further toward corporate interests.

Union members already have a choice. No worker in the United States can be forced to join a union. Period. Furthermore, unions already have a process by which members can opt-out of having their dues used for political activity. As democratic organizations, union members already collectively decide how their dues money is spent – and like our elections, majority rules.

Union members are not calling for these laws. While arguing for paycheck deception in Missouri, legislators claimed they had talked to union workers who felt coerced by the current deduction process, but failed to produce them. No union workers testified in favor of the Missouri bill. In fact, a recent Hart research poll found that 75 percent of union members want their deductions to be used to advocate for the middle class in the political arena.

Paycheck deception laws hurt donations to nonprofits. By firing a broadside attack at unions, paycheck deception laws restrict all kinds of paycheck deductions: direct deposit, 401(k), and charitable deductions. Many union members voluntarily donate to organizations like the United Way through paycheck deductions – these laws would make that process more difficult.

Paycheck deception laws are often found unconstitutional. In Alabama, Arizona, and Washington, paycheck deception laws were ruled unconstitutional by state Supreme Courts. The laws frequently violate the First Amendment – since union workers already have the choice to opt-out of their unions’ political activity. If Missouri passes this law, they will have to waste more taxpayer money defending it at court – they’ll probably lose.

Politicians admit that paycheck deception laws are a stepping stone to further union restrictions. Missouri Speaker Tim Jones admitted that while “there are other ways to skin a cat” to limit union workers’ political power, paycheck deception “a way to get to the ultimate goal of right to work.” Patrick Werner of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity also called paycheck deception a “first step” to making Missouri a “right to work state.”

So-called “right to work” laws ban fair share clauses in contracts, forcing unions to represent workers whether or not they pay dues – another tactic used to weaken unions.

Learn more at Progress Missouri, Building the Middle Class, The Brennan Center for Justice, Nonprofit Quarterly, and Mother Jones.

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President to House Republicans: “Seriously?”

Update 3:55 p.m.: It looks like the House Republicans have bowed to overwhelming public pressure and agreed to the short-term extension.

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“Have we become so dysfunctional that even when we agree on things we can’t do it?” President Barack Obama asked today. It’s a good question.

We’re still not really close to an agreement on an extension of unemployment insurance and the payroll tax cut that will expire in ten days. The easy answer is for the House to pass the short-term extension passed by an overwhelming bipartisan margin in the Senate—but the Tea Party radicals who keep Speaker John Boehner on a short leash are preventing that. The President is pushing hard to try and break the deadlock this week.

The consequences of failing to pass an extension? Millions of people cut off from the lifeline of unemployment insurance, and 160 million people facing a payroll tax hike. “”So many of these debates get reduced to which party is winning and which party is losing,” Obama said in a statement today, “but we should remind ourselves this is about the American people.”
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Obama said that more than 30,000 people have written in to explain what the end of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits would means to them. For working-class and middle-class families, those dollars represent heating oil, food, gas for your car to get you to and from work, or school supplies. For the economy as a whole, it’s fewer dollars that van flow to local businesses.

Today, Ohio Working America members rallied outside Speaker Boehner’s district office to demand an extension. That’s just one of the ways that voters are letting their representatives know that failure on this is not an option. (You can take part, too—click here to call your member of Congress.)

“This is exactly why people get so frustrated with Washington,” Obama said. He’s right. It’s time for Boehner to get it together and pass the Senate’s bipartisan compromise, and then get to work on an extension for the rest of 2012.

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VIDEO: House Republicans Leave for Vacation Without Extending Unemployment Insurance

We like to judge people not only by their words, but also by their actions. We’ll remember these actions in November. We hope you do too.

(h/t Talking Points Memo.)

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So What’s Happening with the Payroll Tax and Unemployment Insurance?

This shouldn’t be particularly complicated. Two key policies keeping working families afloat—a temporary cut in the payroll tax and an extension of the time people out of work can draw unemployment insurance—are set to expire in a matter of days, pulling money out of the pockets of millions.

Congress had an easy choice available. Since our economy continues to struggle with high joblessness and low consumer demand, our elected leaders should have simply renewed these policies. But never underestimate the hostility of the House Republican majority to simple governance and their indifference to the economic condition of working-class people.

On Saturday, the U.S. Senate passed—after a lot of negotiation—a bipartisan compromise that would extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance in the short term. It’s not perfect, but it would at least avoid pulling the rug out from under 160 million workers and millions of unemployed people. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, asked Senators of both parties to come to a compromise, which passed 89-10, on the assumption that the House would vote on the same bill today.

But since nothing can be simple with this Congress, not even the most no-brainer extension of basic economic relief, House Republicans may very well defeat the compromise bill tonight. The political-journalism term of art for this might be “playing hardball,” but the more accurate term is “throwing a tantrum.”

See, the House Republicans’ stance is that they will accept nothing less than the passage in full of HR 3630, which, among other things, would end unemployment insurance for 3 million people. They would rather see the economic damage that results from the rise in the payroll tax than accept a bipartisan compromise.

It’s worth noting that the House Republicans’ strategy here is to bundle together the important payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance extensions with unrelated riders aimed at scoring political points. This is sure to upset people who signed this pledge, right?

We will end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with “must-pass” legislation to circumvent the will of the American people. Instead, we will advance major legislation one issue at a time.

Once the authors of that pledge hear about the House Republicans’ violation of that principle, they’re sure to…oh. Wait.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent nails it: the caucus that controls the U.S. House is “extreme, intransigent, self-indulgent and hostile to basic norms of governing.” To that I’d only add “clearly completely uninterested in the real-world effects of their decisions.”

Photo of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner by Gage Skidmore on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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Obama Vows to Veto H.R. 3630 – It’s the Least He Can Do

Welcome news out of the White House: Obama Administration spokesperson Jay Carney issued a veto threat to Rep. Dave Camp’s disgusting unemployment bill, H.R. 3630, which passed the House yesterday.

“The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 3630.  With only days left before taxes go up for 160 million hardworking Americans, H.R. 3630 plays politics at the expense of middle-class families.  H.R. 3630 breaks the bipartisan agreement on spending cuts that was reached just a few months ago and would inevitably lead to pressure to cut investments in areas like education and clean energy.  Furthermore, H.R. 3630 seeks to put the burden of paying for the bill on working families, while giving a free pass to the wealthiest and to big corporations by protecting their loopholes and subsidies,” the administration said in a statement of policy.

Added Carney definitively: “If the president were presented with H.R. 3630, he would veto the bill.”

Cue the feigned shock and anger from Speaker John Boehner, whose office said the veto threat was “legislative malpractice,” based on “fictitious reasoning.”

We’re going to once again disagree with the Speaker: there’s nothing “fictitious” about the economic pain and suffering that will result if H.R. 3630 becomes law.

With the average length of unemployment at a record high, it is cruel and selfish to cut 40 weeks off of federal unemployment benefits.

With millions of Americans out of work through no fault of their own, it is cruel and selfish to require applicants to be tested for drugs just to get the funds to buy groceries and fill their gas tanks.

With the unemployment rate in states like Michigan still over 10 percent, it is cruel and selfish to end Tier IV unemployment compensation and cut aid from states that need it most.

With state governments faced with impossible budget choices, it is cruel and selfish to override their ability to make decisions on unemployment benefits – and from the same Congressmen who were elected on the promise of “smaller government.”

With 80 percent of Americans begging the two parties to work together for solutions, it is cruel and selfish to treat unemployed Americans as pawns in the Speaker’s political chess match with the President.

Memo to House Republicans: It’s not a game to those outside the Beltway. It’s not a game to the people at home having to decide between food and medicine. We aren’t fooled or amused by Rep. Dave Camp writing a bill that insults our dignity and hurts our wallets, and then putting a bow on top and calling it “The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act.”

Why don’t they get it? Why do they think less money in the pockets of Americans translates into “job creation?” Why do they think the inability to pay for food and housing is good for the economy?

We’re far from agreeing with everything the Obama Administration does. But if this bill gets to the President’s desk in its current form, a veto is the least he could do. If I was President, I might rip it up, or set it on fire.

Photo of the White House by Tom Lohdan on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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Rep. Camp’s Unemployment Bill: “Cruel and Selfish”

If you closed your eyes and tried to imagine a piece of legislation that could inflict the most damage on the pocketbooks and dignities of working Americans, you couldn’t get much better than H.R. 3630.

Introduced by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), fresh from driving the bipartisan “Supercommittee” into the ground with his intransigence, H.R. 3630 is a Frankenstein of poison pills, deceptive language, and punishment for the unemployed.

A report from the National Employment Law Project lays out the tenets of this bill:

  • H.R. 3630 shortens the federal unemployment benefit period by a whopping 40 weeks, even as the average length of unemployment is at its highest since 1948.
  • H.R. 3630 overrides the power of the individual states to determine eligibility for unemployment benefits.
  • H.R. 3630 eliminates Tier IV of unemployment compensation, removing a vital lifeline specifically from those states with the highest rates of unemployment.
  • H.R. 3630 charges unemployed workers for the cost of their own reemployment.
  • H.R. 3630 imposes the requirement of a high school diploma or GED to be eligible for benefits, an unfair burden on those with less access to education.
  • And in an insult to the millions of American who are unemployed through no fault of their own, the bill allows states to test every UI applicant for drug use.

It’s titled, unbelievably, the “Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2011.” George Orwell doesn’t hold a candle to Rep. Dave Camp.

In a letter to members of the House of Representatives, AFL-CIO Government Affairs Director Bill Samuel expresses our attitude perfectly:

H.R. 3630 would protect the most privileged one percent of all Americans from having to pay one more penny in taxes, and it would do so by demanding still more sacrifice and pain from jobless workers, federal employees, and low- and middle-income families. The authors of H.R. 3630 obviously have more sympathy for millionaires than for the victims of the economic crisis caused by Wall Street. We urge you to vote against this cruel and selfish piece of legislation.

Tomorrow, starting at 11am, we’ll be having an #ExtendUI Tweet-a-thon to get the word out about the importance of a clean extension of unemployment insurance. If you haven’t, sign our 9 Demands for the 99 Percent petition, which includes a demand for Congress to extend this vital lifeline.

Photo of Representative Dave Camp by Michael Jolley on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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House Republicans Propose Devastating Cuts to Unemployment Insurance

It can’t be said often enough: with the jobs situation as bad as it is, we need to keep unemployment insurance flowing to the millions of households who need them. There are more than four job seekers for every job opening, and the average unemployed person has been out of work for some 40 weeks. Unfortunately, the extension of unemployment insurance that would support those struggling with long-term unemployment is set to expire at the end of the year.

And now, to add insult to injury, the Republican caucus in the U.S. House is pushing a new bill that would slash weeks out of the unemployment benefits that those out of work can draw on.

That means that families hardest-hit by the economy are going to have less money in their pockets to spend on their food and their home. It means that they can’t contribute as much to the local economy. The new bill is short-sighted and cruel in its impacts.

The extension of unemployment insurance is one of the 9 Demands of the 99 Percent, and it’s one Congress can and should take action on immediately. It’s not complicated. Extending unemployment insurance is the right thing to do. And as the tireless activism of our members across the country has shown, it’s an issue that draws wide and passionate public support.

In addition to the new reductions on the length of benefits, the bill is riddled with proposals that would punish the unemployed, make the system less efficient and undermine the guarantee of unemployment insurance.

The National Employment Law Project has a great point-by-point analysis of this bill, which they say would have a truly grim impact on individual unemployed people and the economy as a whole. (NELP is also mobilizing people to call Congress to demand extension of unemployment insurance.)

As economist Jared Bernstein notes, “The whole thing makes no sense…we’ve never failed to extend with the jobless rate this high. It’s bad for families who need the money, and it’s bad for the macro economy, since they spend the money.”

As usual, the Republican leadership in Congress is showing where its priorities are—and making things better for working families doesn’t seem to make it onto the list.

Photo by takomabibelot on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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House Plan Attacks 99%, Benefits 1%

by Tula Connell – Reposted from the AFL-CIO NOW Blog

House Republican leaders unveiled a budget plan Friday in which they “once again rushed to the rescue of the 1 percent” by insisting that millionaires should not have to pay one penny in taxes, according to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. Instead,

the House Republican proposal would cut benefits for jobless workers, cut pay for public employees, cut preventive health services, reduce premium assistance for low- and middle-income individuals buying health insurance, and raise premiums for many Medicare beneficiaries. House Republicans obviously have more sympathy for millionaires than for the jobless.

AFGE President John Gage also blasted the Republicans leaders” Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, introduced by House Speaker John Boehner.

This is just another attack on the 99% on behalf of their good friends—the 1%. They are targeting a small segment of people who make $30,000 to $70,000 a year, rather than asking their millionaire and billionaire supporters to pay a little more. It’s not right, and the American people should be outraged.

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The Next Fight: Extending Unemployment Insurance

Now that the much-ado-about-nothing Super Committee is behind us, it’s time to get serious. The real crisis in this country is jobs. It’s unacceptable that Washington isn’t focusing all of its time and energy on tackling it. It’s unacceptable that 9% of people are unemployed, that millions more are under-employed or discouraged from the work force, that there are more than 4 job seekers for every opening, and 42% of the unemployed have been out of work 6 months or more.

And what’s really galling is that extended unemployment insurance benefits are set to expire at the year. That means a sizable drop in consumer spending—in practical terms, less money in the pockets of millions of people, hurting their ability to stay in their homes, support businesses and feed their families. Millions are living without real economic security, and in many cases unemployment insurance in the only thing keeping them afloat.

As the New York TimesBinyamin Appelbaum notes on Twitter, GDP growth has stayed stubbornly low this year, such that it’s not much bigger than the economic impact of the payroll tax cuts and extended unemployment benefits. Put more simply: these soon-to-expire policies are just about the only thing standing between our economy and utter stagnation or recession.

One study, by the Economic Policy Institute, estimates that the hit to the economy from failure to extend unemployment insurance would cost us half a million jobs. (They also have more detailed numbers on the job loss it would cause state-by-state.) That’s definitely not what we need right now.

The extension of unemployment insurance is one of the 9 Demands of the 99 Percent, and it’s an urgent one. We’ll be fighting in the coming weeks to make sure we can get an extension passed.

So far this fall, Republicans in the Senate, operating from the minority, have blocked bills on multiple occasions that would put hundreds of thousands of people back to work—while the House hasn’t taken up these jobs bills at all. (Instead of actual jobs proposals, the House leadership is trying to sell meaningless resolutions, favors to big banks and special assistance to companies that outsource jobs as “jobs bills.”) And in state capitals, new governors are kicking people out of vital jobs in education and public safety, another drag on the job market.

So as the unemployment insurance extension nears its expiration, will they kill another half a million jobs by blocking its renewal?

Photo by @jbtaylor on Flickr, via Creative Commons

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