WASHINGTON -- Union activists generally don't consider House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to be an ally in labor struggles, so many were surprised Wednesday morning to see that Issa's GOP-led committee had launched a new website to promote workers' rights.
Upon closer inspection, however, labor activists came to see what they considered a distinct anti-union flavor of the website, ProtectingOurWorkers.com. Pitched as a platform to listen "directly to rank-and-file union workers," the site includes three stories told in workers' own words, and all of the workers are critical of their own unions: the National Education Association (NEA), the United Auto Workers and the Service Employees International Union.
The site was apparently built off of a February oversight hearing on required union dues -- a pet peeve of many anti-union conservatives, who claim the money is used for left-leaning political ends.
"Every worker should have the choice to decide whether their money is taken from their paychecks and used to fund political activity," Issa said in a statement Wednesday. The purpose of the site, he added, is to illuminate "how forced political contributions violate [workers'] fundamental rights" and to hold "union leaders and government accountable to taxpayers."
The AFL-CIO had a different take on the site. Alison Omens, director of media outreach at the union federation, said in a statement that the site is "nothing more than lipstick on a pig -- a poor attempt to shroud [Issa's] corporate political agenda as support for working people. No one is buying his politics of the 1 percent no matter how he tries to sell it and as committee chairman he should be ashamed."
In response to the AFL-CIO, House committee spokesman Seamus Kraft said in an email, "It's no surprise that the AFL-CIO is so defensive about accountability and transparency in how it spends its members' hard-earned dues. An organization that purports to defend the rights of workers should support the rights of rank-and-file union members to know and decide how their dues money is spent."
On Wednesday Issa sent letters to the leaders of several unions, as well as Lafe Solomon, acting general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, asking that they answer his questions on union dues issues and hand over documentation supporting their answers.
Issa's activity on Twitter didn't endear him to the labor community, either. Starting early Wednesday morning, Issa put out a flurry of tweets harping on union dues -- and in many of those tweets he used the "union solidarity" hashtag, #1u, which is commonly used by labor activists as they knock the likes of Issa. In one Issa tweet, for example, he asked his 38,000 followers, "Are you a #union worker facing forced political contributions? Speak out at ProtectingOurWorkers.com #1u #solidarity #labor."