Media goes fishing for union coercion tales

At least one Colorado worker is paying union dues to finance political causes he doesn’t support… because he hasn’t submitted standard paperwork opting him out of such payments, according to a recent Denver Post column meant to profile workers who are purportedly forced to pay union dues in the state.

It has been two weeks since Post business columnist Al Lewis, in light of a "right-to-work" ballot initiative that seeks to restrict the way unions organize in the state this year, wrote that he was seeking to talk to employees at unionized workplaces who are forced to pay dues.

Under the proposed "right-to-work" plan, titled Amendment 47, contract agreements between unions and employers where workers are required to pay dues or agency fees as a condition of employment would be banned. Federal law prohibits workers from being forced to join a union.

A central contention of Amendment 47 supporters is that workers in Colorado are being forced to pay dues against their will, so Lewis set out to talk to those who were doing so.

Following one column and two blog posts searching for forced dues payers, Lewis penned a column Tuesday, which cites only one person on the record who says he is forced to pay dues, because he hasn’t signed a piece of paper opting out (emphasis added below):

Jay Hesterman, a technician at Qwest, resigned from a union 14 years ago, but he still pays about $500 a year in dues and gets the union’s newsletter anyway.

"I’m not necessarily anti-union," said Hesterman, 47. "My dad was very strong into the union. What the unions did, historically, proved a great balance against large corporations. But I don’t like the direction they are headed in now."

Hesterman, who has worked at the telephone company for 28 years, is a conservative Republican. And unions generally give their money to Democrats.

He could apply to have the portion of his dues given to political causes refunded, but that requires paperwork. And why should he have to give any money to a group that supports causes he doesn’t?

Workers in a unionized workplace who do not want to pay dues often have the option of paying agency fees instead, money that only finances collective-bargaining costs incurred by the union when negotiating a contract that covers all employees regardless of union membership.

But it is true in some workplaces — where employees have voted to include a “union security” provision in their contract calling for agency fees — that those who wish not to pay dues will need to sign documentation opting out.

According to Lewis, “scores” wrote back to him about being forced to pay union dues, but so far only one, Hesterman, who even by his own admission had the choice to not pay dues, has been named by the Post writer.

The column and the process it took to gather the information pose two interesting questions: Where are the workers who are forced to pay union dues in Colorado? And why aren’t "right-to-work" supporters using them in their campaign?

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at

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