February 28, 2011

The OTHER Problems With Public Sector Unions

It used to be a fairly common practice for government employees, especially those who were not protected by civil service laws, to be subject to the “lug”. It was an expectation that, for the employee to keep their job or have any chance of advancement, a portion of their salary would be kicked back to the coffers of the party in power in the political subdivision where they worked. Such a practice is, of course, objectively corrupt – not to mention illegal under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 601.

Frankly, I fail to see how anyone can possibly object to the notion that no person should be required, as a condition of being employed by a government supported by their own tax dollars, to pay a financial tariff to any individual or organization – especially when any or all of that money extracted as a condition of employment is to be used for political purposes not necessarily of that employee’s own choosing.

And herein lies the problem of compulsory unionism for state employees. It does not merely require the payment of a portion of a government worker’s salary to a private organization (the union) as a condition of working for the government. How does mandating the payment of union dues or an agency fee to a union materially differ from requiring that an employee pay a portion of their salary to an elected official's brother-in-law -- or to the elected official directly? It is still a shakedown.

To the degree that such dues also include a portion used for political activity by the union and directed primarily towards advancing the electoral fortunes of a particular political party (the Democrats), it also the functional equivalent of the old – and illegal – practice of requiring employees to pay the “lug”. As such, might not union dues for public employees violate 18 U.S.C. Sec. 601, especially when they are mandatory?

Some might argue, of course, that union membership is voluntary. But is that really so, given that public employees in many states are required to join unions or pay agency fees as a condition of employment. Is that not the equivalent of arguing that the demand made by a sexual harasser – “Have sex with me or you won’t get that job” – is equally non-coercive in light of the victim’s ability to decline to participate in the requested sexual activity (though at the cost of the employment opportunity)? And while one might argue that the services provided by the union in exchange for the dues or agency fee constitute a benefit to the employee, doesn’t the compulsory nature of the dues fail to respect the right of the employee to make an adult decision on whether such services really are of benefit to him/her and whether or not he/she wishes to contract for them. After all, in Indiana an overwhelming majority of unionized state employees dropped their union membership when offered the chance to do so several years ago. It is enough to make one wonder what these workers know that those backing the public sector unions don't.

Additionally, compulsory unionism for public employees raises another problem from a First Amendment point of view. No one would argue that the government could require an individual to join First Baptist Church, the Rotary Club, or any other organization as a condition of employment. After all, the violation of freedom of association inherent in such a requirement is quite obvious and beyond debate. How, then, can a state – especially via contract with a private organization – obligate any employee to affiliate in any manner with an organization with which they choose not to be associated? Clearly, such an effort is in conflict with the terms of the First Amendment. As such, can it not be argued that the First Amendment of the US Constitution constitutes a right-to-work law for public employees?

So you see, the problem of public sector unions is not merely one of their ability to fleece the taxpayers or the inappropriateness of the private sector union model for public sector labor (as noted by none other than Franklin Delano Roosevelt). It extends to the violation of the rights of public employees to be free of coercion to associate with an organization which they view as not in their best interest and from the extortion of union dues and fees as a condition of working for a government entity.

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Well said my friend.

|| Posted by T F Stern, February 28, 2011 05:03 PM ||
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