Unions have poured millions of dues-payers’ dollars into the campaigns of politicians who pass and preserve laws favoring unions, and who approve public service employee union members’ pay and benefits – especially pensions – that have impoverished municipalities, school districts, counties and states.
The late economist Sylvester Petro observed that, because they are born out of state-backed coercion rather than mutual exchange, American public service unions eventually face demise triggered by their own corruption. Columnist George Will wrote, “Freedom is not the unions’ friend.”
Ironically, President Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat icon and labor ally, described public sector unions as “unthinkable and intolerable.”
“The process of collective bargaining as usually understood cannot be transplanted to public service,” Roosevelt said. “A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to obstruct or prevent the operations of government until their demands are satisfied.”
Some states have dealt with their labor issues.
Facing a choice between job growth and further economic stagnation, Michigan, widely regarded as the birthplace of the modern labor movement, became a right-to-work state in 2012. Michigan, neighbors Wisconsin and Indiana and, now, twenty-three other states have eliminated union membership as a condition of employment.
Those three Midwestern “rust belt” states changed their laws in recognition of market realities.
Legislated forced unionization – closed shops – and prevailing wage laws artificially increase the costs of labor, but cannot increase worker productivity. When labor costs exceed labor productivity, developers import non-union construction labor, unionized companies outsource, move, automate or go out of business. Union jobs are lost.
Furthermore, discriminatory laws favoring unions discourage employers from forming businesses in, relocating to, or expanding businesses in jurisdictions which unions control. Accordingly, non-union jobs are also lost.
Accordingly, right-to-work is good general labor policy. And, because it allows personal choice, right-to-work legislation is pro-labor. It is only criticized as “anti-labor” by unions that depend upon forced membership and politicians whose campaigns receive union cash.
It does not have a right-to-work law, but, market realities affect Pennsylvania, too.
Despite Republican majorities in the legislature, former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett said that Pennsylvania “lacked the will” to pass a right-to-work bill. His spokesman said that Corbett “supports the legislation and would sign it,” but that “a bill is unlikely to pass the legislature.”
Right-to-work bills have always languished in Pennsylvania’s legislature. Public records reveal union campaign contributions to Pennsylvania legislators in both parties. A lobbying firm founded by two former Republican state senate staff administrators has represented the Pennsylvania State Education Association, a teachers’ union, for years.
Any amount of union campaign cash renders unpersuasive any politician’s protests that union money doesn’t influence their votes. Talk is cheap. It takes political courage to call or cast a vote.
But, while acknowledging Pennsylvania’s “lack-of-will” political climate, let’s set aside the opposing arguments over right-to-work and prevailing wage laws and just consider two fair, reasonable, sensible, easily justifiable labor reforms.
Following the 2018 Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, Pennsylvania continued deducting dues and fees – without individual authorizations from each – from the paychecks of government employees who hadn’t opted out of union membership.
While the Commonwealth faces difficult budget choices, taxpayers should not bear the cost of automatic payroll deduction of public-sector union members’ dues and remitting them to their unions. Why should unions enjoy unique privileges? They should be responsible for collecting their own dues.
In fact, many members who were forced to join them as a condition of employment never voted to certify the union to which they pay dues.
When running for reelection every two or four years, Pennsylvania’s legislators must convince constituents of their value as officeholders. Similarly, using secret ballots, unions should be required to face their constituent members every two or four years to prove their value to the workers whose dues Pennsylvania currently confiscates on unions’ behalf, while guaranteeing workers the freedom to re-certify their bargaining units or to decertify them without lengthy, expensive court challenges.
If unions are popular with their members, they should be able to pull their own weight without forcing taxpayers to pull it for them.
Pennsylvania right-to-work legislation, pension reform, and paycheck protection may seem politically improbable, but they are inevitable.
When politicians enact these reforms, either out of conviction or financial necessity, Pennsylvania will be better run and more prosperous.