State Labor Law Reform Beyond Right-to-Work

Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin’s legislature are not alone. A number of states are introducing legislation that enhances worker freedom and holds unions accountable to the workers they represent.

Elected officials in West Virginia, New Mexico, and Missouri have introduced right-to-work (RTW) bills that are nearly identical to what Wisconsin has just passed. RTW is a common sense reform that frees workers from forced union dues payments as a condition of employment. Worker freedom is at the heart RTW laws, but economic growth also accompanies its passage.

Competitive Enterprise Institute research finds RTW has increased state economic growth rates by 11.5 percentage points. Income also rises with the passage of RTW.

However, outside of RTW, state lawmaker efforts to enact labor reform resides in the public sphere due to the National Labor Relations Act that preempts nearly any state law that deals with policy covered by the Act. Thankfully, many states are taking the initiative to inspect public-sector labor law and change it for the better.

A bill, Senate Bill 549, to increase government union financial transparency and eliminate inherited government unions is on the docket in Missouri. While federal law requires private-sector unions to file annual reports detailing their spending, government unions are not. It only makes sense that the public and union members have the ability to inspect how those dues are spent given the fact that the law allows unions to force workers to pay dues.

Another element of the SB 549 would require union recertification elections every two years. A reform that, more likely than not, provides workers their first chance to vote on whether they support union representation. Research shows that less than 10 percent of workers ever voted for the union that represents them and takes money out of their paycheck.

Currently, the only state that requires government unions to stand for reelection is Wisconsin and, as I’ve previously noted, thousands of workers exercised their new found choice to rid themselves of unwanted unions.

In Nevada, Assembly Bill 182 seeks to end wasteful subsidies granted to government unions. One component of the bill ends the use of government resources to collect union dues. Another would prohibit government employees from performing union work instead of their government duties while paid by the taxpayer. The Nevada Policy Research Institute reports, “Southern Nevada governments spent over $4.6 million in 2012 paying union members to work for their union.”

A vast majority of collective bargaining negotiations in the public-sector are hidden from public view, which is one reason why so many costly provisions exist in public collective bargaining agreements like release time and government collecting dues for unions. Idaho State Rep. Steve Harris (R-Meridian) introduced a bill to change this by granting the public access to government negotiations over pay and benefits. Since taxpayers fund these agreements, it only makes sense that they have access to the negotiations before the collective bargaining agreements are ratified and funded by tax dollars.

In Michigan, State Rep. Gary Glenn has introduced a bill that would “ban all public sector unions from representing anyone who is not a dues-paying member of that union.” This is an important reform that hopefully gains steam, replicated in other states and, eventually, is applied to private-sector unions. It is an improvement over RTW laws, which only free individuals from financially supporting a union that they do not want. Rep. Glenn’s bill goes a step further by giving workers the right to choose their own representation or negotiate their own contract. Ultimately, no worker should be forced to accept representation they do not want or did not vote in favor of.

The bill is also good for unions. By eliminating monopoly bargaining privileges, unions would be more receptive to the needs of its membership rather than relying on coercion to collect dues payments.

As these bills to reform government unions are debated in the states, lawmakers should take the opportunity to ensure that government works toward the benefit of the public, not the benefit of special interests government unions.