The State Worker: New group seeks to cut into union cash with appeal to religious conservatives

10/25/2012 12:00 AM

10/25/2012 12:12 PM

With labor politics and money looming large right now, a new nonprofit launched a website this week that aims to divert union dues money to charity.

The home page of the fledgling group ChooseCharity implores workers to "send ALL of your union dues to a charity you believe in, instead of seeing them support things you don't."

The idea isn't new.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act includes a provision that allows unionized workers to divert all of their dues to charity if contributing to a labor group violates their religious convictions.

Unions don't exactly trumpet the law, and if state workers are any indication, it's rarely invoked.

Only 46 of about 169,000 represented state employees diverted their union dues to charity, according to payroll figures from December 2011.

ChooseCharity hopes to promote awareness of the law – and make a few bucks. For 20 percent of a member's annual dues, it handles the objection paperwork and any union flak.

On legal issues, the group is also working with the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute, well-known for its legal fights to keep God on currency and gays out of wedding chapels.

Since its inception 15 years ago, the institute has positioned itself as the Christian-right version of the American Civil Liberties Union.

It recently sued to overturn a state law that bans therapies intended to make gay teenagers straight. It has defended inscribing "In God We Trust" on U.S. coins and currency.

The institute also has backed Proposition 8, the 4-year-old voter-approved state initiative against gay marriage.

Institute President Brad Dacus said the ChooseCharity launch isn't a ploy to exploit anti-labor sentiments in vogue around the nation. Union politics tend to be liberal, he said, and conservatives need a voice.

He said the institute has handled dues opt-out cases for years, and "the new organization will just expedite a process" that unions sometimes drag out to discourage their members.

Still, you have to admit that the timing to market a union-dues opt-out service couldn't be much better.

Labor politics are front-of-mind around the country. Democrats' fortunes, including President Barack Obama's re-election bid, are riding on union support.

Meanwhile, organized labor is backing Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 tax hike while amassing more than $60 million to defeat Proposition 32. The measure is anathema to unions because it would ban payroll-deducted monies – labor's sole funding source – from politics.

Those high-profile issues already highlight labor's decidedly Democratic bent. Now this new pitch for their money underscores for many rank-and-file conservatives a hard fact: Their personal beliefs and their unions' stands often don't mesh.

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