Budget & Tax
Trent England | November 13, 2014
Union Reforms Will Protect Workers and Taxpayers
Did you know the state of Oklahoma supports a Washington, D.C.-based political organization that advocates for gun control, opposes home schooling, and supports government-controlled health care beyond even what is in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)?
State government does this in two ways, and both could be prevented by legislative action to level the playing field.
The National Education Association has an innocuous name and a radical agenda. Describing itself as “the nation’s largest professional employee organization,” the NEA is a national union made up of smaller unions representing government education employees. The NEA collects dues from these affiliates, including the Oklahoma Education Association.
At its national meeting in July 2014, the NEA adopted 99 pages of resolutions that lay out the group’s agenda. This includes support for abortion (“reproductive freedom,” Resolution I-17), opposition to programs that allow children to escape failing or dangerous schools (Resolution A-25), advocating “strict prescriptive regulations” on guns (Resolution I-34), and supporting complete government control of healthcare (“single-payer,” Resolution H-7). By choosing to affiliate with and financially contribute to the NEA, the OEA and its local affiliate unions actively support this agenda.
Oklahoma is a right-to-work state, which means workers are free to choose whether or not to join a union. Private- or public-sector employees cannot be fired for refusing to participate in or support a union. Nevertheless, the state has granted special power to some government employee unions. This includes unions affiliated with the NEA and OEA.
Dues Collection for Political Organizations
Collecting dues is one of the challenges of running a membership organization—unless you are a government union in Oklahoma. In that case, the state has volunteered to collect your dues for you. State government and state taxpayers subsidize the dues collection service that supports both the OEA and NEA.
While supporting private organizations generally is outside of the proper role of government, supporting a political agenda is clearly improper. The NEA and OEA are free to lobby for their views and to solicit for members and contributions; the state should neither interfere with nor support those efforts. Oklahoma needs to get out of the business of collecting money from worker paychecks for any outside groups by repealing the law that granted this special privilege.
President Franklin Roosevelt, an advocate for private-sector unions, nevertheless warned “the process of collective bargaining … cannot be transplanted into the public service.” Requiring “collective bargaining” forces employers to negotiate with union executives over pay, benefits, and conditions for workers. In Oklahoma, just a few government agencies, like school districts, are required to bargain this way with unions. In most of government, elected officials are able to make decisions about how to operate.
In a thoughtful letter to a labor leader, President Roosevelt explained that government officials cannot bargain like a private business owner. In government, “the employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws,” he wrote. A business owner can fully represent his or her interests, but one or a few government officials cannot really represent the entire public in negotiating contracts.
Put more simply, business owners negotiate over their own future profits. Government officials negotiate over other people’s money. And while businesses have a bottom line, that line in government is fuzzy at best. Worst of all, labor unions often invest heavily in influencing who sits at the other side of the bargaining table. In the worst examples—places like Detroit or the state of Illinois—collective bargaining has become a process where union officials and their elected political allies simply divvy up the spoils.
The average American private-sector worker is not represented by a union, many by their own choice. Workers at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee voted earlier this year not to unionize. When Wisconsin and Michigan workers were given more control over whether or not to belong to a union, many got out.
All workers should (and do) have the freedom to join political organizations. Yet government should not be used by special interests to artificially increase the power of those political organizations. Government employers should not be required to “bargain” with private special interests over how government workplaces will operate. Voters elect officials to make these decisions. Taking the decisions away from elected representatives and boosting the power of private special interests is not just unnecessary. As President Roosevelt pointed out, it is undemocratic.
‘Why Should the State Keep Propping Up the Unions?’
Introducing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at an OCPA dinner in 2012, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin dubbed him “a profile in courage.” She’s right. And with courageous leadership, conservative policy victories are possible.
“For years, public employee unions have depended on government to provide automatic payroll deductions for dues,” The Oklahoman has noted. “So what happens when dues payment becomes voluntary? Membership plummets.”
When Wisconsin ended automatic deductions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees lost over half its membership. We hope Oklahoma lawmakers take note and end automatic deductions for all public sector unions. The failure to pay dues indicates government workers don’t see much value in union membership. So why should the state keep propping up the unions?
Indeed, why should lawmakers continue to use your tax dollars to prop up a declining labor union (OEA active members are down 18.5 percent in the last four years), a labor union which in 2006 sued those very lawmakers and then spent millions of dollars in the SQ 744 campaign telling their constituents how greedy and deceptive they are?
And speaking of profiles in courage, another OCPA dinner speaker—former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels—has suggested that public-sector unions should be abolished altogether.
Trent England (J.D., George Mason University) is vice president for strategic initiatives at OCPA, where he also serves as the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow for the Advancement of Liberty. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, England has contributed to two books, The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, and numerous other publications.
David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow
Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.