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OpenMarket: Government Unions

  • California Court's Indefensible Defense of Dysfunctional Education Policies

    April 15, 2016 1:25 PM

    A California appeals court yesterday restored a series of education policies that harm students by making ineffective teachers extremely difficult to fire. The court overturned a lower court ruling, Vergara v. California, which had struck down teacher tenure, “last in, first out” personnel policies, and a complicated process to challenge dismissals.

    The plaintiffs have said they plan to appeal to the California Supreme Court. They should, given the stakes involved and the appeal court’s strange reasoning. Moreover, education reform activists in other states should continue pursue their own challenges as well. There is an ongoing case in New York State, and a challenge in Minnesota was filed this week.

  • Wisconsin Judge Rules that Workers' Wages are Unions’ Property

    April 10, 2016 11:47 AM

    On Friday, April 8, a Wisconsin judge handed unions a surprising victory—surprising because of the argument behind his decision.

    Dane County Circuit Judge William Foust agreed with the argument made by three unions challenging Wisconsin’s right-to-work law that the law is an unconstitutional taking of union property because unions are required to represent people who opt out of joining the union and paying union dues.

    Right to work is not an unconstitutional taking because unions choose to become exclusive representatives. The duty of fair representation is one that unions impose on themselves. Private-sector unions may act as members-only unions and choose not to represent non-members.

    In addition, unions receive something of value as exclusive representatives—employers are forced to bargain with them. So even if a union that acts as an exclusive representative were required to represent non-members, the law gives them something of value for doing so. 

    A similar challenge was struck down by the Indiana Supreme Court. Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said he plans to appeal the ruling. Moreover, no other state court has ever struck down a right-to-work law.  He should, and rightly should prevail, given Foust’s nonsensical ruling.  

    See more CEI research on right-to-work laws: An Interstate Analysis of Right-to-Work Laws.

  • Air Traffic Control Reforms Will Give Us Modern Technology, Not Union Giveaways

    April 6, 2016 5:37 PM

    Guest Post by David Grizzle
    ​Former Chief Operating Officer and Chief Counsel, FAA

    As the former chief operating officer and chief counsel at the FAA, I saw how the lack of modern technology hampers us from more effectively routing the 2 million people who fly every day. We are one of the few remaining developed countries in the world that relies on paper strips and outdated technology like ground-based radar to direct the most technologically advanced planes the world has seen.

    We have a historic opportunity now to reform air traffic control to enhance safety, provide a steady and reliable funding stream for high-tech projects, and improve the flight experience for consumers. Imagine knowing with certainty when you arrive at the airport for your weekly flight home that you won’t be delayed because of bad weather in another part of the country. Or knowing that your flight is taking the most direct route, which will get you home to your family sooner.

    You may have a seen two recent pieces in National Review claiming that such reforms would be a giveaway to the unions. This is absolutely incorrect. There are numerous assertions that just don’t stand up to a detailed reading of the proposed legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation does not expand union rights, rather it provides an unprecedented opportunity to move employees out of the federal government and toward modern pension and benefit structures, while still retaining a strike prohibition that is unprecedented in the private sector and crucial to maintaining stability in air traffic control.

  • Illinois Pension Reform that Can Pass State Supreme Court Muster

    April 6, 2016 7:24 AM

    When you’re in a hole, stop digging.

    That seems like such a simple concept that it shouldn’t need stating, but in the area of public pension reform, it’s often proven difficult to implement.

    For states facing huge pension shortfalls, it means to stop adding to the total of pension liabilities. When it has been implemented, as in Utah, it has worked.

    Better yet, it can be implemented in states whose constitutions prevent lawmakers from making any changes to pension obligations—as in Illinois, where a judge struck down a Chicago reform law on precisely those grounds.

  • State Legislatures Can Dampen Friedrichs Ruling's Blow to Worker Freedom

    March 29, 2016 3:32 PM

    Today, the Supreme Court announced a 4 to 4 spilt decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a decision that keeps alive the Abood precedent that forces non-union members to pay union dues as a condition of employment with state and local governments.

    Government unions had a lot at stake. With the spilt decision, government unions will continue to collect millions of dollars in compulsory dues payments from librarians, bus drivers, teachers, and all sorts of other public employees across the country.

    The plaintiffs, public school teachers from the state of California, argued that forced union dues payments amounted to forced political speech and a violation of their First Amendment rights. In essence, the teachers argued that government unions are inherently political organizations and that the representation that the teachers are forced to pay for supports political activity at the collective bargaining table.

    As I explained in a previous post:

    Negotiations between unions and state and local government officials should not determine whether public funds go toward contributing to public employee pensions, other municipal needs, or necessitate the raising of additional funds. Those decisions should be left exclusively to elected officials, not private organizations like government unions.

    While the outcome of the case is unfortunate, the forced union dues problem is one that state legislatures can mitigate with other reforms.

    First, state legislatures may prohibit forced union dues payments at a condition of employment. As of 2014, 27 states already prohibit this practice (see map here).

  • Illinois' Narrow Road to Pension Reform

    March 28, 2016 12:18 PM

    On March 24, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down a Chicago pension reform bill that sought to address the city’s considerable pension shortfall. In addition to posing a setback for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s efforts to fix the city’s finances, the ruling highlights a problem some states face in attempting to bring their pension liabilities under control.

    As the late, great Yogi Berra would put it, last week’s ruling was déjà vu all over again. Last week’s ruling echoes a May 2015 case, in which the court ruled unanimously that SB1, a modest state pension reform law enacted during the administration of Governor Pat Quinn ran afoul of a provision in the state constitution that stipulates: “Membership in a pension or retirement system of the State ... shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”

    That provision was also at the center of the ruling striking down the Chicago reform. The ruling said: “The pension protection clause does not guarantee any particular method of funding, but, rather, guarantees the right to be paid.”

    So is pension reform even possible in states like Illinois that privilege public pensions like this? Yes, says Illinois Policy Institute Senior Attorney Jacob Huebert:

  • The Public Pays for Union Political Activity

    March 21, 2016 11:31 AM

    Taxpayer dollars in state and municipal governments across the country are, normally without public knowledge, used to subsidize government union political undertakings. Clearly, this is a misuse of the public’s limited resources.

    The latest example, The Baltimore Sun reports, a Howard County, Maryland audit finds:

    According to the Feb. 24 investigation, four employees of the sheriff’s office improperly used union leave, thus granting Howard County Sheriff James Fitzgerald “county-subsidized campaign labor” not available to his opponents.

    Union leave, which allows government employees to perform union business on the taxpayers’ dime, was used to influence the 2014 primary and general elections.

    A majority of public-sector collective bargaining agreements contain a provision allowing union leave, or union release time. While union leave is a waste of tax dollars—no matter the use—political activity is usually prohibited under the practice. However, unlike many other state and municipal governments, Howard County is seeking ways to recoup the misused funds.

    In recent reports, I’ve found that government unions in other states similarly misuse union leave to participate in political activity.

  • House Oversight Committee Demands Agencies Reveal Union Subsidy Data

    February 19, 2016 1:01 PM

    On February 12, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent out letters to federal agency heads to provide more information on union “official time.”

    They sent the letters in order to inform the public of a practice they likely are unaware of. That is every work day, federal employees are freed from performing their governmental duties and instead perform private union business—void of any public purpose. Taxpayers pay for these employees’ wages, pensions, health care benefits, office space, supplies they use and travel.

    The Oversight Committee has undertaken this task because under the Obama administration, very little knowledge of the cost, time, and how many federal employees use official time has been made known to the public.

    The authors—Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), and Jody Hice (R-Ga.)—are trying to fill the void made by the Obama administration. The letter requests that agencies report the more detail on official time including the employee name, position, pay grade, whether the employee serves exclusively on official time (yes, some federal employees never perform government work and exclusively conduct union business on the taxpayers’ dime), and compensation, among other data.

  • Labor Policy Developments to Watch in the New Year

    January 22, 2016 12:39 PM

    Labor policy reform was a fast-moving issue during in the past year. At the federal level, labor policy became more tilted in favor of union organizing, while state reform was a mixed bag.

    The National Labor Relations Board changed how union elections are conducted, made determining who your employer is a tough question, and made company email systems a union organizing tool.

    Outside the Beltway, Wisconsin became the 25th right-to-work state, giving workers the right to forgo paying union dues to a union they disagree with. Major cities around the country approved $15 minimum wages, including Seattle and Los Angeles.

    The coming year looks to continue rapid pace of labor policy changes. While 2015 was the NLRB’s year, it looks like the DOL is going to take the reins in 2016.

  • Union Subsidy Eliminates So-Called "Free Rider" Problem

    January 6, 2016 1:29 PM

    On January 11, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that could provide right to work protections to state and municipal employees across the nation—meaning public employees cannot be required to pay dues to a union or risk being fired.

    At issue is whether government employee unions should be to compel non-members to pay “agency fees,” which cover the costs of collective bargaining, as a condition of employment, in lieu of dues. The current forced dues precedent was established under the 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.    

    This case is all about worker freedom. No worker should have to pay money to any organization in order to keep his or her job—especially inherently political organizations like government unions.

    It is also about the rights of voters and taxpayers. Many outcomes of collective bargaining should up to elected officials. Negotiations between unions and state and local government officials should not determine whether public funds go toward contributing to public employee pensions, other municipal needs, or necessitate the raising of additional funds. Those decisions should be left exclusively to elected officials, not private organizations like government unions.

    Further, a large number of public employees who are forced to pay dues never had a chance to vote on whether they desired union representation in the first place. Research finds that most public employees never voted for the union that represents them and collects dues from them. As Heritage Foundation labor policy analyst James Sherk notes, “Fully 99 percent of the teachers in Florida’s largest school districts had no choice about being represented by their union.”

    Labor unions contend that they need to collect agency fees because non-members still benefit from collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance procedures. Therefore, union officials claim that if they were not allowed to compel non-members to pay agency fees, those workers would be “free riders” who benefit from union representation.

    This is a bogus argument for two reasons.


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