A modest proposal for the tax treatment of union dues [UPDATED]

A friend from California writes:

I use software for my taxes and noticed for the first time when going through the Q & A that there’s a question about union dues related to deductions for job expenses. I’ve never paid union dues and have never paid much attention to this, but it raises a serious issue.

Unions charge a member, say, $500 per year and spend much or most of it on political contributions. If I make a political contribution I can’t deduct it, but if I make one via union dues the federal (and in my case California) government subsidizes it.

My friend proposes that unions be required to provide information to their members about the percentage of dues used on political donations and allow only the remaining percentage to be deducted. Thus, if 60 percent of a $500 dues assessment were spent on political contributions, only 40 percent ($200 in this example) could be deducted.

This result would be harsh on workers who are compelled to pay union dues. Unlike my contributions to candidates, theirs aren’t voluntary to the extent they come through the union.

Still, I don’t think it’s right for the government to subsidize political donations by some but not others. And my friend’s proposal might induce union members to pay more attention to how their dues are being spent.

UPDATE: A reader informs me:

Unions are already required to separate political from collective bargaining expenses for all who are represented by them (not just members). According to the Supreme Court decision Beck v. Communication Workers of America, individuals can resign from even a “closed shop” union, and refuse to pay for political activity. I do this with my union so they have to send me a yearly audit of their activities and a reduced monthly bill only for “collective bargaining activities”. So it would be a simple matter to get the Beck reduced amount from every union and only allow tax deductions on that amount.

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