Union Time on the Taxpayer Dime

Tackling the hidden taxpayer support of union activities in Florida

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Published with the James Madison Institute

Over the past 20 years, Floridians have consistently made conscious decisions about the type of government we want to leave to our kids, our grandkids, and their grandkids. Those decisions have, for the most part, focused on a commitment to limited government, low taxes, and economic liberty. From the governorship of Jeb Bush through Rick Scott (in collaboration with our leaders in the House and Senate), with very few exceptions we have sought to control the size and scope of government encroachment in our lives. That commitment has largely been effective at providing a consistent and healthy business climate, and a small footprint of government reach at both the state and local levels. Floridians largely enjoy a quality of life free of government intrusion.

That same philosophy has also extended to our status as a “right to work” state. Florida has embraced the notion that individuals should be able to secure employment without being coerced into joining a union against their wishes. Right to work status is not unique to Florida – in fact a national trend is occurring even in typically “union heavy” states to guarantee the rights of workers to be free of coercion from unions. In February 2017, the state of Missouri became the 28th state to join the ranks of the free.

A common misperception requiring correction is that being a right to work state doesn’t outlaw unions – it simply makes it the choice of an employee to join or support a union. Unions do successfully function in Florida, and they do so with the consent of their membership – exactly as they should. This works in both the public and private sectors.

A unique and challenging characteristic of public sector unions is that they are almost entirely funded through the collection of dues coming from the taxpayer-funded salaries of their members. This creates a dynamic in which – directly or indirectly – taxpayers can be funding the operations of an organization with which they fundamentally disagree. This conflict was articulated by no less an authority than Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who called the prospect of government unions striking against taxpayers “unthinkable and intolerable.”

Nevertheless, public unions do exist both in Florida and around the country. They are some of the most powerful and well-funded political machines we have ever had in our history. They bargain for worker contracts, engage in political activity, campaign for issues, and support candidates and causes. In doing so – they use taxpayer funds to push an agenda often at odds with the taxpayers footing the bill. This is a widely acknowledged and oft-cited debate among policy makers, union advocates, stakeholders, and taxpayers.

As that debate rages on, there exist tactics employed by unions leveraging their collective bargaining agreements that are even more duplicitous, create even deeper conflicts, and waste even more taxpayer dollars. They operate largely outside of the realm of public knowledge, and should be brought to light to ensure that every tax dollar is spent in the sunshine of accountability and transparency.

Each working day, government employees report for work but do not perform governmental duties. Instead, they work for a private enterprise void of any direct public purpose—their public- employee union. Taxpayers, however, are directly responsible for these employees’ compensation – even when they are performing non-public work.

It’s all part of an expensive government subsidy to labor organizations known as union “release time.”