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Education Reporter
Number 135 EDUCATION REPORTER April 1997

Federal Court Upholds Michigan Law
Prohibiting Employee Payroll PAC Checkoffs

CINCINNATI, OH - The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a 1994 Michigan law that bans the use of "reverse check-off," a device used by unions to automatically deduct funds from employees' paychecks to fund Political Action Committees (PACs). The January decision in Michigan AFL-CIO v. Miller reversed the District Court ruling.

"Reverse check-off" is an automatic payroll deduction from an employee's paycheck in an annual amount set by a union which is forwarded directly to its PAC. The deduction is not labeled as a PAC contribution, so there is no way to distinguish it from normal dues deduction.

In Michigan, 130,000 Michigan Education Association (MEA) members have an annual PAC deduction of $15 from their paychecks. In a two-year election cycle, these contributions add up to $3,900,000 earmarked for political campaigns. On the national level, 99% of all NEA contributions funded Democrats in 1996.

Such partisanship contrasts with public school teachers' party affiliations. A National Center for Education Information survey found that 42% of teachers identify themselves as Democrats, 30% as Republicans, and 28% as Independents. NEA President Bob Chase recently commented, "Our membership breaks down very similar to the general public as far as percentage being Democrat, Republican, and Independent."

The union made it difficult for an employee who objected to the political deduction to obtain a refund. The employee faced a restricted time limit and complex paperwork, had to repeat the process annually, and risked incurring the disfavor of union leadership.

The court said that "the right not to contribute to political causes that they do not favor is as central a First Amendment right as is the right to solicit funds."

As a result of the decision in Michigan AFL-CIO v. Miller, employees must give consent each year in writing for contributions to all political action committees. Governor John Engler called the decision a victory for "worker democracy and paycheck protection."

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