Governor Walker’s resounding victory over what can only be described as political ugliness on parade taught us that unions are not all powerful and can be corralled into reasonable confines. Wisconsin’s Act 10 of 2011 that precipitated calls for removing the Governor went a long way toward stripping public unions of their inordinate control over state and local governments and school districts. It eliminates the right to strike, requires an affirmative vote to retain the union representative, limits contract negotiations to wages-work rules and benefits are off the table-and forbids any government agency from deducting union dues. The last reform was altered later to allow deduction if the union member gave the government employer express permission to withhold dues.
Surely, quite a laundry list of reforms. Each has a profound effect on union powers. As a package they have caused vast numbers of public employees to quit paying dues and, as a result, be dropped from union rolls. After all, with so little ability remaining to extract wealth from taxpayers, the benefit of being in a union has been greatly diminished.
Now would be a really good time for Pennsylvania lawmakers to take a page out of the Walker playbook. The place to start, given the long running inability or unwillingness to eliminate the right to strike, would be the forced collection of dues. There may never be a better opportunity to disallow any government or government entity in Pennsylvania to deduct union dues without the express written permission of the employee.
This should be a relatively easy law to write and get to the floor. Pennsylvania taxpayers deserve what Wisconsin taxpayers have, a fighting chance at the negotiating table.
Following Wisconsin’s enactment of legislation that removes the automatic check off of union dues and requires them to be voluntary on the part of unionized employees, large percentages of members have chosen not to pay the dues and have been removed from union membership rolls. According to the Wall Street Journal, membership in AFSCME, the state’s second largest public sector union, has dropped from over 60,000 in March 2011 to just over 28,000 currently.
Clearly, union members who were so demonstrative in their attacks on Governor Walker and the Republican members of the Legislature for enacting the removal of forced union dues are quite comfortable in not paying those dues.
Besides the removal of forced dues deduction from paychecks, Act 10 also requires that each bargaining unit hold a vote to retain the union as their bargaining unit. In addition, the right to strike has been taken away. Taken together these changes have stripped the unions of the ability to hold taxpayers hostage and as a result have made union membership far less economically beneficial to the employees.
Wisconsin has shown the other traditional heavily unionized states that the people and the taxpayers can stand up to the power of public unions. When will Pennsylvania politicians join this brave movement and emulate their brethren in Wisconsin and Indiana who are leading the way in restoring sanity to the balance of labor negotiating power and returning freedom to labor markets?
The Commonwealth endured three teacher strikes this past school year, with Allegheny County serving as the epicenter of activity. Walkouts in the Allegheny Valley, Moon, and Bethel Park School Districts inconvenienced students and families and continued the trajectory of Pennsylvania seeing a teacher strike somewhere in the state every year since the 1976-77 school year.
After enduring a six week strike last year, the Bethel Park schools are once again facing a possible teacher walkout. Why? Because teachers want more money and continued control over work rules. If Pennsylvania would pass a law containing the provisions of Wisconsin’s Act 10 passed earlier this year, Bethel Park teachers would not be talking walk out again. Indeed, under the Wisconsin statute, not only would they be forbidden from striking, they would not be allowed to bargain for anything other than base wages. Benefits, work rules, etc., would be left to management to decide upon.
Moreover, the school district would not be permitted to withhold union dues from employees and remit them to the union bosses. And finally, the union would have to hold a recertification vote every year with a requirement that 51 percent of all bargaining units members vote in the affirmative for the union to continue as the representative of the employees.
Too bad Pennsylvania is so late to the teacher strike elimination derby. Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio have all eliminated the dreadful practice. Pennsylvania stands with Vermont as the only state in the Northeast as allowing strikes. None of its neighboring states allow strikes. So why is it that Pennsylvania’s legislators cannot get this albatross off the backs of children and taxpayers?
Bethel Park would certainly benefit from a dose of Wisconsin treatment of union abuse of taxpayers and the public.
Back in the wintry days of February, the nation’s attention was focused intensely on the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. Thousands of boisterous protestors took over the public areas of the building in a massive effort to stop one of the most far reaching pieces of legislation the state, or any state, had seen in quite some time. Democrat Senators fled the state in order to forestall a vote on the bill. But in the end the portions of the bill dealing with public sector unions were voted on and passed on March 11.
We have had a ringside seat in Wisconsin for the past few weeks of the unpleasant aspects of militant unionism. The nation has watched people disrespect public property, hurl physical threats against legislators they disagree with, illegally enter into the Capitol, support Senators who flee the state rather than honor their responsibilities, and carry Obama defying signs that could be interpreted as inciting violence. Of course the President has apparently forgotten his Tucson speech in which he asked for a more civil tone. Not a word was forthcoming about the hate and intemperance spewed daily in Madison.
But the real underlying story that is not being talked about is what the unions’ opposition to Wisconsin’s new public sector labor law says about the unions’ fear of their members. Union claims that Governor Walker is destroying collective bargaining rights are a smoke screen to hide what they are actually afraid of, namely, that the new law forces unions to be re-certified by membership annually by a vote of 51 percent of eligible voters and the government will no longer deduct union dues from worker paychecks and remit the money to the unions.
If union leaders and hard core members are confident of the support and allegiance of a large majority of members as they purport to be, why are they worried about re-certification and why are they worried about members not freely paying dues on a timely basis? These changes to the law should make no difference at all if most are dedicated to the unions. But that is the point; many unions have lost re-certification elections in recent years. That has led to the need to have the Obama administration use blatantly pro-union tactics and rulings to maintain private union power have to be worrying labor leaders.
With steadily shrinking private sector union participation, the public sector unions are where the movement will have to be saved. And they fully understand that. As a result, they undoubtedly view what is happening in Wisconsin and Ohio as a mortal threat to the labor movement. Thus, the tactics they employ are and will reflect the perceived threat to their existence.
The ongoing debacle in Wisconsin brings to mind the problems of how best to govern when the U.S. Constitution was being debated. One of James Madison’s most powerful and persuasive arguments in defense of the principles underlying the Constitution was the idea that competing interests would limit the opportunities for one group or another to abuse the rights of others.
In The Federalist No. 10 and his "Vices of the Political System", Madison delineates this argument clearly. "The Society becomes broken into a greater variety of interests, of pursuits, of passions, which check each other". And further, "The great desideratum in Government is such a modification of the Sovereignty as will render it sufficiently neutral between the different interests and factions, to controul one part of the Society from invading the rights of another, and at the same time sufficiently controuled itself from setting up an interest adverse to that of the whole Society."
Madison, who understood all too well how democracies and republics had failed in the past worked to create a government with divided powers with checks and balances on each other. But beyond that he knew that powerful non-government interests would try to use government to protect and enhance their specific interests. Thus, his admonition that government not set up interests adverse to the whole Society.
Unfortunately, the decision to allow public sector workers to organize into labor unions represents the starkest possible violation of Madison’s admonition. The inherent problems with government worker unions were recognized by Franklin Roosevelt and were long viewed as antithetical to good governance. As we have seen where government workers are in unions, a massively unhealthy incestuous relationship between employees and elected officials has developed. The unions work to ensure the election of officials who will do their bidding. The officials make sure the workers are well taken care financially and have their jobs protected.
We can see the damage to state and local government finances that stem from that relationship. The question is, "can the problems be resolved without further serious damage to the economies and civility of the affected areas?" Sadly, none of this was necessary. Paying attention to the wisdom of James Madison would have served the nation well.