Public Unions

Public-Sector Unions Deserve to Be Destroyed

Mandatory fees are an assault on free association.

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How does a public-sector union work? Easy.

First, the state creates a monopoly. The monopoly forces taxpayers to fund those workers, whether they do a good job or not. The union then coerces workers to pay dues regardless of whether or not they want to. Then the union uses those dues to help fund political advocacy that perpetuates their monopoly and the union's influence. So, in other words: racketeering.

Among many significant problems with this arrangement, the most obvious is that it's an assault on freedom of association. If there is another organization in American life that has a license to compel workers to participate in their nongovernmental organization simply to secure a job, I haven't heard of it.

The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a case in which a man named Mark Janus, a non-union child-support specialist in Illinois, argued that his First Amendment rights were violated because he is forced to pay "agency fees" to a public-sector union. It was dismaying, though not unexpected, that during oral arguments, justices like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor concerned themselves with the impact the decision would have on union membership rather than concerning themselves with impact this kind of policy has on the Constitution.

The vast majority of media coverage on the topic similarly relied on euphemism-heavy stories that did everything possible to avoid words like "compelling," "forcing" or "coercing." Most outlets framed the entire case as a concerted partisan attack on unions and, by extension, the Democratic Party. As a matter of legality, the intentions of those involved shouldn't matter much. But the reason disparate groups attack public-sector unions is that the institution's survival often rests on coercing Americans and undermining the First Amendment. If stripping a political advocacy group of the power to force workers to join their efforts is a crippling event, then it's an event worth celebrating.

As it is, workers in union-heavy industries are typically under incredible pressure to join—in my experience, there are few bullies bigger than the union boss in everyday American life. Yet general union membership continues to crater. Those who resist these efforts are often accused of being "free riders," because they purportedly benefit from collective bargaining but refuse to pay in. This is an exceptionally peculiar argument coming from organizations for which the central mission, as far as I can tell, is to ensure that the least effective workers are protected at the expense of the most effective workers.

More than that, though, the entire case against Janus not only rests on coercion, but on a debatable, if not dubious, notion. John Doe must join a union, because he already benefits from collective bargaining negotiations, union advocates argue. Does he? Even if we concede that collective bargaining negotiations might raise the average salary of teachers, it may very well depress his salary. It is just as easy to argue that collective bargaining hurts the good teacher. Public-sector unions are not only arguing that workers must join a collective and subvert their individual rights, but that they must accept an ideological contention.

In many states, public-sector unions don't have collective bargaining rights. Yet, as I write this, every school in all 55 counties of one of those states—West Virginia, where the average teachers' salary is a bit higher than the average worker's—are now closed due to an illegal teacher's strike. Most of those average workers in West Virginia have no choice when it comes to their children's educations.
Yet nearly every story about this situation focuses on the plight of poor teachers rather than powerless parents. On one hand, we hear that teachers unions are vital to the economy because teachers would make far less in the private sector. In the next breath, we hear them argue that teachers are substantially underpaid compared to what others earn in the private sector. So there's a simple way to find out how much public-sector employees are worth individually, and that's breaking the union's monopoly.

If Americans want to join organizations that undercut initiative and achievement to slide employees into safe, pre-determined slots regardless of ability or work ethic, that's their business. If they want to break the law and blackmail entire communities who have no choice but to walk away, they should be fired. If they want to force co-workers to pay for their political activities, they should be stopped. And if they claim that most teachers want to willingly participate in union efforts, the only way to find out is by giving those public employees a choice.

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  1. are now closed due to an illegal teacher’s strike

    How can you claim a strike is illegal? You shouldn’t have the power to force people to work under any conditions. The whole premise of your argument is undercut if you think govt should have the power to coerce people to work against their will.

    1. Illegal is not the same as criminal. The illegal designation means they aren’t protected from firing due to failure to report for work. A legal strike is actually the government forcing the employer to not take actions against the employee.

      1. I got ya.

        1. A strike by members of the armed forces would be criminal under the UCMJ. I could see some other public safety positions having similar criminal penalties.

          1. As long as the employment is “at will”, I don’t see how you can criminalize any strike. Police and fire fighters can just up and quit as far as I know. And in essence that’s what a strike is (or should be). “Pay us more or we’ll quit working”. The only problem (in the private sector anyway) is that employers can’t just fire them if that’s what seems best.

            1. I don’t know all the government positions, but there may be other positions with restrictions. I don’t recall if the other uniformed services (USPHSCC, NOAACOC) are at will when not activated.

              1. Good point, I hadn’t thought about such people going on strike. It hurts my head as a libertarian because they should just be able to walk out but then people will die, and they could blackmail the community as much as desired. I guess people could give them the boot and establish volunteer services, but I don’t know where they’d get equipment.

                1. Individuals can quit. They can’t coerce others into quitting.

                  Usually they do this as a “sick out.”

                2. This is the problem with any monopoly though. If farmers had a union and they all walked out, people would die. If computer systems administrators had a union and we all walked out, people would die.

                  The problem is monopolies and unions that effectively create a monopoly.

                  I would be much happier if Target, Wal-Mart, Menards, Lowes, etc… offered fire department services (or better yet, the insurance companies if they were a little less regulated). There hasn’t been a day in many, many years where I couldn’t get a tool or groceries that I needed or wanted.

                  Governments and government enforced unions are a huge problem. (and just as an FYI: I support private sector unions, as long as the NLRB isn’t being tyrannical).

            2. As long as the employment is “at will”, I don’t see how you can criminalize any strike.

              From a libertarian point of view, it all depends on what is written into the employment contract. For essential services like police or fire, it might well make sense to write severe penalties into the contract (“if you don’t show up to fight the fire and don’t have good cause, you owe $1M / you go to jail / …”).

            3. They and hired thugs initiate violence against replacement workers. Look up the Ford plant riots after Hooverites wrecked the economy…

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    2. I would also note that teachers are government employees not private employees. Most government employment contracts have clauses for missing work not due to illness, i.e. strikes. Teachers’ contracts usually contain provisions for prior approval of time off (vacation) during work time due to scheduling similar to child care facilities, fire dept., police depts., etc.

      I would also note that teachers are already paid well considering the amount of time they are actually at the work place. Lest we forget, most teachers are paid for ~180 work days per year whereas most other positions are usually ~250 plus days per year. More the equivalent of civilian seasonal workers like construction, etc.

    3. I concede the right of public-sector workers to leave their jobs without permission, what I question is the wisdom of rehiring striking public sector workers at the same job they walked off of.

    4. Well, if a union strikes happens at a company – the company stops making a product. I can buy the product somewhere else or wait for the strike to resolve (They come to terms).

      For a teacher’s strike, I’m..well forced to pay taxes – I don’t have a choice. So they strike, do I get my taxes back for a time? Can I take my child somewhere else for an education? So it’s basically, you pay us, we do what we what, FYTY

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  2. There are other interesting implications if the Sup Ct rules the mandatory fees violate the first amendment rights of the plaintiff. I heard it described as opening Pandora’s box which sounds exciting. I’ve been wondering if and when Reason would examine the larger impact of restricting govt from coercing money from people to pay for speech and actions that are the people are against.

    1. Pandora’s Box is just another scare tactic from Big Union and its Big Gov’t psychophants. There are many States, mostly Right to Work States, that already operate without mandatory agency fees for government unions where the individual chooses to join the union or not and the union has the choice to support/not support the non-union member in any adverse action.

    2. opening Pandora’s box which sounds exciting

      Is Pandora inside the box? Does she jump out of it like from a birthday cake?

      1. Pandora isn’t inside the box. Pandora has the box. That’s probably why Louis Louis finds it exciting.

  3. Nobody wants to take your union away.

    1. Well, maybe assault unions.

      1. If you like your union, you can keep your union.

        1. Clap………clap………clap…..

    2. If you like your union, you can keep your union.

      1. Dammit, should have refreshed first

    3. I would love it if Trump said that right before the midterms, then the day after the midterms he used an executive order to disband all public sector unions.

      I’d write more, but I’m off to find a unicorn.

  4. I’d love to think a ruling against the union would result in a new and wonderful world of improved government fiscal discipline, accountability, etc etc.

    Instead, I have this nagging feeling that even a severe drop in membership will leave these unions politically potent, and we’ll see politicians of all stripes continue to pander to their membership.

    1. One only has to look at Right to Work States where there are no mandatory agency fees, etc. to see what will occur.

      1. So investment moving in, and thriving economies. Yeah, nobody wants that.

        -jcr

        1. Well, I live a right to work state…and yes the politicians still pander to unions here, and they still wield quite a bit of power. For sure a ruling against public sector unions is a good thing, but these unions aren’t going away.

  5. If unions are so great, then removing the coercion should hardly effect them. I mean, everybody should want to be in a union because they are so fucking awesome, right?

    Unions are 40 years past their useful life span. Time to take off the life support.

    1. I am not sure if you used 40 years purposefully because it was 40 years ago SCOTUS upheld mandatory public union dues did not violate the First Amendment. They never should have been put on life support in the first place.

      1. Kinda like the Voting Rights Act being kept on life support using 50 y/o data.

      2. JP88, that was actually just a happy coincidence.

  6. The First Amendment argument is incredibly specious, as everyone knows (government spends our money in lots of ways we may individually disapprove of). So you’re scolding the liberal justices for focusing on the real issue (the threat to the existence of unions by partisan activists who simply want to take a power base away from the Democratic party) instead of the stupid made-up one (freedumb)?

    1. But the argument about its effect on unions is not relevant to the case. The question is whether the requirement is constitutional, not whether it leads to better or worse outcomes for some people or is good policy.

    2. Clearly the argument “government forces you to say things all the time!” has limits, or freedom of speech isn’t really a thing.

    3. Since unions are an uncontestable good for their members according to you, making participation volintary should have no impact whatsoever. And since there is no such thing as a free rider on the welfare staten there is no such thing as a free rider on the union. And since the unions are there purely to represent their members and their interactions with their employers, this has no bearing on the democratic party. After all, these dues are supposed to be completely separate from any political activity.

      Why do you hate children, tony?

      1. They get in the way when he’s beating his wife

        1. They get in the way when he’s beating his wife boyfriend. Tony ain’t no filthy breeder.

          1. Seriously? You think Tony would be the dom in that relationship?

            1. Why couldn’t they take turns?

              1. Dammit why does everybody assume I’m the uke?

                I mean sure I’m not the seme but not all relationships are seme-uke, ya know!

            2. I don’t know. He seems feisty enough.

    4. Does it hurt being that ignorant?
      Or is just normal for a Progressive?

      Since when did you support Big Business? Or have you forgotten that unions are just another corporate entity with wealthy 1%ers living the high life off the backs of the workers?

    5. News flash: Tony thinks freedom is made-up and stupid.

      1. Liberty is force because to have liberty you must force those who use force to stop using force. Thus freedom is tyranny.

        1. Tony has made that exact argument, several times.

          1. Freedom of Speech is white supremacy, ya’ll.

    6. The unions aren’t the government, so it isn’t the government taking your money and spending in a way you don’t approve. It is the government forcing you to give your money to a third party.

    7. ” as everyone knows (government spends our money in lots of ways we may individually disapprove of). ”

      Just because the government is currently violating the constitution doesn’t mean that it’s specious to argue that it should stop.

    8. re: “The First Amendment argument is specious”

      Government spending money on things you disapprove of is legally distinguishable from government forcing you to give money to a non-governmental organization – who then spends the money on things you disapprove of. In the first case, the spending is still accountable to you, the taxpayer, because if you’re angry enough at the decision, you can vote out the people who decided that’s the way to spend the money. In the second case, there is no accountability to you, the fee payer. The union has unilateral discretion and your only option to even partially-influence the decision is to pay even more money to become a member – a member of an organization that you oppose, by the way. If that’s not a violation of both freedom of speech and freedom of association, I’m not sure what is.

    9. If unions would separate their dues into parts covering their collective bargaining costs and a separate line for electioneering, and not force members to pay the second line item, then there’d be a lot less of a 1st Amendment argument. As it is, unions constitute a huge source of electioneering dollars. I keep getting notes from Public Citizen and Daily Kos telling me how its bad that we have so much money distorting our democracy as a result of Citizens United, but unions take the cake in that regard. You’d think Public Citizen and Daily Kos would go after the unions for their distortions on democracy…oops, who am I kidding?

      1. OpenSecrets.org’s historically researched organizations

        Rank Organization Total All Cycles
        1 Service Employees International Union $280,351,570
        2 Fahr LLC $176,222,614
        3 National Education Assn $124,513,112
        4 Carpenters & Joiners Union $115,202,437
        5 AFSCME $114,299,053
        6 Las Vegas Sands $113,866,908
        7 American Federation of Teachers $110,262,347
        8 Renaissance Technologies $99,476,189
        9 Laborers Union $98,712,067
        10 National Assn of Realtors $86,767,164

    10. So you’re scolding the liberal justices for focusing on the real issue (the threat to the existence of unions by partisan activists who simply want to take a power base away from the Democratic party) instead of the stupid made-up one (freedumb)?

      The two are the same thing. Democrats have built their power base on attacking property rights, free speech rights, and individual liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. Therefore, protecting those rights necessarily diminishes the power base of the Democratic party.

  7. When a private sector union drive the price if their employer’s goods and services beyond what the customers are willing to pay, there’s feedback in the form of people not buying their stuff. This forces the company to do something, or go belly up.

    When a public sector union drives the price of their employer’s goods and services beyond what the customers are willing to pay, well that’s tough shit. Your taxes are going up, and if you don’t like it you can go to jail.

    So basically that means that public sector unions get whatever they want, because there are no consequences. Well, not for them. There are for those of us who pay taxes.

    Even the leftist hero FDR understood this.

    1. Sources on FDR? Good reference to use while swatting away angry teacher friends who love welfare and FDR.

      1. While there are several sources, the strongest is probably FDR’s letter to Luther C. Steward, the president of the National Federation of Federal Employees dated 1937 Aug 16.

        In particular, look to paragraphs 4 and 5. The language is … blunt.

        1. You SFed the link. Here ya go.

  8. “It was dismaying, though not unexpected, that during oral arguments, justices like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor concerned themselves with the impact the decision would have on union membership rather than concerning themselves with impact this kind of policy has on the Constitution.”

    This is like worrying about the affect that graphic visuals on cigarette packages will have on the tobacco industry, this is how utterly stupid this line of reasoning is when put in a very similar but far less contentious issue.

    1. One might even question their commitment to the constitution vs. Some progressive ideal above the rule of law…

      1. I wish they had just come out and said that during heir confirmation hearings. It would have been honest, at least.

        But apparently the people who see a first amendment issue are the partisan ones.

        Sure. It just makes sense.

  9. Although I’m broadly in favour of union membership, my wish to see public sector unions brought low is really for one reason: police unions. They have had a massively detrimental effect on US society, well beyond economics and employment rights.

    1. Yep. I’ve taken the position that the business between unions and companies is not my concern. But public unions directly affect everyone and should be abolished.

  10. All unions are horrible and should be destroyed. They always and only existed as a means of extortion based on class warfare brainwashing.

    1. As long as membership is voluntary, and they stay out of the public sector, I would say unions are just people exercising their right to assemble. If they put their employer out of business with their excessive demands, well that just sucks.
      Public sector unions however are just plain evil. In addition to keeping terrible people employed, they’re a second layer of extortion. They extort the people who extort us. Fucking evil.

      1. But the NLRB males it involuntary. They should have the right to organize on their own time and own dime, and employers should be able to fire their asses as they please.(see air traffic controllers)

        1. Yes the NLRB should definitely go.

        2. Didn’t know air traffic controllers were like that. I certainly think they are some of the best performing people in our society, although the FAA gets a lot of credit for the remarkable safety of air travel.

          1. He’s referring to air traffic controllers being fired in the 80s when they went on strike or threatened to strike. I don’t think it’s happened since.

            1. That was fun! When the fracas began I mailed mayor Jane Byrne a “Who Is John Galt?” postcard.

            2. Ronnie firing those 5th column cowards was his finest hour. Jane Byrne firing the other First Responder? blackmailers was every bit as good.

  11. There could be a coercion concern. If the majority of people are employed by the government (say a local government), and pay is docked for political speech, then the employee’s own counterspeech to the union may be insufficient to overcome the same’s forced contributions to political speech.

    On the other hand, monetary support for the union might be viewed as a bonafide occupational requirement to keep the governmental services viable. However, since other states get by just fine with the right to work, that argument doesn’t seem to hold water.

  12. Good points. The retort, I’ll wager, will be “it’s not Racketeering when WE do it!”

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  14. Damn the union. All it does is steal from me.

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