| September 4, 2012

Government Labor Unions Shouldn’t Use Taxpayer Resources to Collect Dues and Political Contributions

All Oklahomans understand that elections have consequences. Even after the closest elections where the winner prevails by just a handful of votes, those who supported the loser respect the results. Political elections are waged on the theoretical field where the campaigns make promises knowing that few voters pay attention after the votes are cast. In Oklahoma, many of our elected officials wrap themselves in the mantle of conservatism.

When it comes to union elections, the results of a successful vote lead to taxpayer-funded automatic payroll deductions for dues for government workers in the bargaining unit. The status quo benefits the labor union as the power of government is used to take government workers’ money and send it to the labor unions. In reality, this collection practice benefits entities whose sole purpose is to extract more resources from Oklahoma taxpayers.

This practice should come to an end. Oklahoma government labor unions should have to collect dues using their own resources. Given modern technology and the increasing number of Oklahomans who pay bills over the Internet, government resources should not be used for government-labor-union dues collection. If government workers want to join the labor union and pay dues, then that transaction should occur directly between the labor union and the government workers as a voluntary action.

As Oklahoma Commissioner of Labor Mark Costello has noted, “The costs of union dues withholding and remittance are paid by the taxpayer, directly benefiting the unions and employee associations. In other words, state and local government serves as the ‘bagman’ for union bosses.”

Without automatic payroll deductions, government workers vote with their checkbooks, often declining to join the labor union and pay dues. As recently noted by an editorial writer at The Oklahoman, “The latest example comes from the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals Association, which has gone from about 1,900 members to the low hundreds” when dues payments ceased being automatically deducted from paychecks. Unfortunately, on August 13 a federal district judge reinstated the automatic deduction.

A more stunning result comes out of Wisconsin. After Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin legislature passed collective bargaining reform that ended compulsory union dues via automatic payroll deductions, the membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) plummeted by more than 50 percent. The Indiana Education Association suffered large losses as well when Governor Mitch Daniels signed an executive order ending compulsory labor union membership for teachers.

The loss of dues-paying members when workers have the freedom to choose is why labor unions spent tens of millions of dollars in Wisconsin to reverse Governor Walker’s collective bargaining reforms. In Ohio, labor unions raised $42 million to reverse via a veto referendum the collective bargaining reforms passed in 2011. The results in Wisconsin won’t stop the labor unions from fighting on every front. As AFSCME President Gerald McEntee stated after failing to recall Governor Walker, “We will take them on, just as we did in Ohio, where we overturned John Kasich’s anti-collective bargaining bill.”

Earlier this year, Oklahoma House Speaker Pro Tempore Jeff Hickman introduced House Bill 3111, which “would eliminate automatic payroll deductions by state agencies for membership dues to the Oklahoma Public Employees Association (OPEA) and automatic payroll deductions by schools districts for contributions to an education employee association or union like the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA).” Unfortunately, with Speaker Pro Tem Hickman’s approval, the House amended House Bill 3111 by charging a small fee to continue automatic payroll deductions for labor unions. A companion bill, Senate Bill 1498, did not pass the Oklahoma Senate.

Surely if Wisconsin can end automatic payroll deductions using government resources, Oklahoma can pass a measure that ends the practice here.

An activity closely related to automatic payroll deductions is the forced extraction of political contributions from union members. In some cases, government workers may decide that joining the labor union and voluntarily paying the dues is a sound investment. That doesn’t therefore mean that those members want to support the political activities of their labor unions, especially as those activities relate to supporting political candidates and causes contrary to their personal beliefs. Currently, labor unions can require members to pay money to support their political activities, again using government resources to collect the funds.

For example, during the collective bargaining battle in Ohio, the Ohio Education Association (OEA) “voted” to require each member to pay $54 to support the repeal effort. The OEA refused to disclose the vote tally, which consisted of only 1,000 members out of more than 128,000 members. As a result, thousands of Ohio teachers were forced to contribute to an effort that they did not support. Government labor unions in Oklahoma can engage in this practice as well.

Oklahomans should not be forced to give their hard-earned money to entities for uses that are contrary to their belief system. Taxpayer resources should not facilitate this unseemly transaction. Oklahoma should pass a paycheck protection law that prohibits labor unions from requiring those who do choose to join their organization to pay for political activity and bars government resources from being used to collect those funds.

In Washington state, after voters passed a paycheck protection law, the Washington Education Association saw the participation rate of teachers giving money to the political activity fund drop from 82 percent to 11 percent. A paycheck protection law in Utah resulted in a 90 percent reduction in teacher contributions to the Utah Education Association.

In Oklahoma, House Bill 3111 and Senate Bill 1498 included paycheck protection provisions that would have prohibited the use of government resources to collect contributions for political purposes. Unfortunately, legislators caved to the demands of government labor unions and those bills have died.

Just think, AFSCME’s Mr. McEntee had to spend millions of dollars to fight these fights in Wisconsin and Ohio. He didn’t even have to set foot in deep red Oklahoma to stop government reforms from happening here.

Perhaps elections do have consequences … just not the consequences we thought.

OCPA research fellow Matt Mayer (J.D., The Ohio State University) is a former senior official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Mayer also serves as a Visiting Fellow with The Heritage Foundation, where he heads the federalism project. Mayer’s newest book is Taxpayers Don’t Stand a Chance: Why Battleground Ohio Loses No Matter Who Wins (and What to Do About It).

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