Democrats are reportedly considering whether to include a tax break for union members in their $3.5 trillion budget resolution currently awaiting House approval.
The proposal would allow workers to deduct union dues from their taxable income. Labor groups have been pushing for its inclusion, and, according to HuffPost, lawmakers are considering the proposal.
Labor organizers have also been encouraging Democrats to make the deduction “above the line,” meaning that taxpayers could take advantage of the tax law regardless of whether they itemize their deductions or not. The policy, if enacted, could help to encourage union membership by defraying the cost of union membership.
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It could also help level the playing field between union members and corporations, labor advocates argue. Whereas employers can deduct costs of union-busting efforts, workers cannot currently deduct union dues, meaning that workers are shouldering an unfair burden.
“In other words, workers cannot deduct an important cost of earning their income,” wrote Alexandra Thornton, senior director of tax policy at the Center for American Progress, in 2019, “while employers can deduct the costs of maximizing their profits at the expense of workers.”
This is partially due to Republicans’ tax overhaul in 2017, which was one of the largest rewrites of the U.S. tax code in history. Republicans killed a previous version of a union member tax break that allowed workers to deduct union fees if they were filing itemized deductions. The tax deduction could only be used if dues were more than 2 percent of a taxpayer’s gross income.
The current proposal would be a step up from the previous tax benefit, allowing taxpayers to deduct union dues regardless of their filing status if Democrats adopt the “above the line” proposal.
Democrats have indicated in public documents that the reconciliation package will incorporate “[p]ro-worker incentives and worker support,” though details are currently unclear.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has also previously indicated that parts of Democrats’ pro-union legislation, the PRO Act, are included in the reconciliation package. Again, it’s unclear which proposals are in the legislation, as lawmakers are still hammering out the final bill text. But, in combination, these proposals could help to spur union membership in the U.S.
Corporations often scaremonger about union dues to their employees, saying that union membership is expensive and therefore not worth it. However, research shows that union members are paid 11.2 percent more than non-union workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute, with greater access to benefits like health care.
But corporate scaremongering against unionization still often succeeds. Amazon, the nation’s second-largest private employer, used aggressive union-busting techniques earlier this year to hold off a unionization effort in an Alabama warehouse. Though the National Labor Relations Board announced this month that Amazon violated the law in the Alabama campaign, corporations often face little to no consequences for illegal anti-union activities.
The steady weakening of labor laws in the U.S. has led to a corresponding decline in union membership over the past decades. Whereas union membership of U.S. workers hovered around 30 percent in the 1940s and ‘50s, in 2020, the union membership rate was only 10.8 percent, a continuation of a steady decline that began in the 60s.
The union dues deduction could help combat some corporate anti-union tactics by helping offset the cost of union membership. In conjunction with other pro-union laws, like the full passage of the PRO Act, Democrats have an opportunity to help reverse the decline in union membership.