10/08/97 - 09:14 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

House panel would restrict political use of union dues

WASHINGTON - A day after the Senate deadlocked on prohibiting use of union dues for political purposes, a similar provision was approved Wednesday by a House committee.

Labor unions would have to get written permission from members before spending their dues on political, social or charitable activities under the measure, which was recommended on a voice vote by the House Education and Workforce Committee.

Democrats objected that Republicans would use the anti-union provision to kill legislation overhauling the way political campaigns are financed. If the provision were attached, it would make it difficult for labor-supported Democrats to vote for the campaign bill.

"My support is contingent upon the fact that it is not our intention here to apply this or use this as either a poison pill or a sabotage of any effort that might come up on campaign finance reform in this Congress," said Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J. "I will be watching very carefully."

The Senate stalemated on campaign finance legislation Tuesday after Republican leaders added a union-dues provision to it. Most Republicans are blocking a vote on the financing bill; most Democrats won't allow a vote on the dues amendment.

Rep. Harris Fawell, R-Ill., said his House bill would apply only to unions representing workers who must pay union dues as a condition of keeping their jobs. It would require unions to get written permission from each worker before spending his or her money on anything "not necessary to performing the duties of the exclusive representation of the employees in dealing with the employer on labor-management issues."

Unions also would have to give members detailed information about how their dues are spent. The bill would bar unions from retaliating against workers exercising their rights.

Employees would be allowed to file lawsuits in federal or state court to recover double the amount taken from their paychecks if a union did not comply. The employees also would be entitled to attorney's fees and costs of litigation.

Republicans called the bill fair, reasonable and consistent with a 1988 Supreme Court ruling that said unionized employees can only be required to pay fees and dues directly related to their labor contracts.

"No one has the right to use that hard-earned money for political purposes without the worker's consent," Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio., said in a written statement released before the committee meeting.

But Democrats said the bill amounted to micromanagement of internal union affairs and called it a thinly disguised attack on organized labor, particularly the AFL-CIO, which spent $35 million promoting labor issues - and mostly Democrats - during last year's presidential campaign. Unions already are required to tell members they are not required to pay dues for activities not related to collective bargaining, they said.

"This bill is nothing but a gratuitous attack on the collective voice of working families" that would "muzzle the legitimate voice of representatives of working men and women who dared tell the truth about the Republican anti-labor agenda," said Missouri Rep. William Clay, the committee's highest ranking Democrat.

Labor Secretary Alexis Herman said the Clinton administration opposes the bill and she would recommend that President Clinton veto it.

The bill "is a direct and blatant attempt to silence America's working families," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said. He added: "It leaves spending by corporations and other groups like the Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association and the Christian Coalition virtually untouched."

By The Associated Press

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