03.17.2020 0

With teleworking in place, GOP state governors should modernize their governments and deal with public sector unions

By Richard McCarty

State and local government agencies are shutting down or having workers telecommute in response to the Chinese coronavirus, and now it is the time for GOP governors and legislatures to modernize their governmental operations, not just survive. It should be a good time to assess which departments and employees are vital, and which are not. Once those assessments are made, appropriate cuts should be made.

Of course, public sector unions will vigorously oppose any efforts to rightsize the bureaucracy, and that is why Republican lawmakers should also move to curb the excessive power of government employee unions.

With his signature on Act 10, former Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) transformed public employee unions — and politics — in Wisconsin. Among other things, Act 10 limits most labor negotiations to wages; and any wage increases above the consumer price index must be authorized by a public referendum. The act requires annual elections to determine whether members wish to keep their union; it also directs government agencies to stop collecting union dues. By standing up to the public sector unions, Walker saved taxpayers a fortune. Furthermore, as a result of Act 10, public employee union membership declined in Wisconsin; and it is quite likely that the legislation helped President Trump win the state in 2016.

Decades ago, public employee union members only accounted for a small fraction of all union members; but now, they account for nearly half. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 7.1 million public sector union members and 7.5 million private sector union members last year. This translates into a union membership rate of 33.6 percent in the public sector and a rate of 6.2 percent in the private sector.

While the net benefit of most private sector unions in the modern workplace is debatable as nationwide membership continues to drop, most public sector unions are detrimental. If a private sector union gets too greedy demanding unsustainable wages and benefits and protects too many lazy employees, the employer will be forced to take drastic action, such as replace workers with robots, or eventually go bankrupt.

On the other hand, if a public sector union is able to elect its cronies to office and negotiate sweetheart labor contracts, taxpayers may be stuck with the bills for decades. One need look no further than Connecticut, Illinois, or New Jersey, to see what happens when powerful public employee unions get their way: taxpayers pay, and pay, and pay, and it is still not enough.

Of course, even when public sector unions are not demanding higher pay and lavish benefits, they are often supporting liberal causes and candidates. So which unions are some of the largest public employee unions, and how are they working to advance the Left’s agenda?

  • The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which has over 300,000 members, opposes conservative judges and gave money to the liberal Democracy Alliance.
  • The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which has over 1.3 million members, supports illegal immigration and abortion and gives money to liberal organizations, such as the American Bridge 21st Century, the Center for American Progress, the Democracy Alliance, the Democratic Governors Association, Demos, the League of Conservation Voters, MoveOn.org, and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
  • The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which has over 1.6 million members, supports illegal immigration, gun control, and abortion and gives money to liberal organizations, including American Bridge 21st Century, the Center for American Progress, the Clinton Foundation, the Democratic Governors Association, Emily’s List, MoveOn.Org, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, Netroots Nation, the People for the American Way Foundation, and Priorities USA.
  • The National Education Association (NEA), which has over 2.9 million members, supports illegal immigration and gives money to liberal organizations, such as American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, Democracy Alliance, MoveOn.org Civic Action, Priorities USA, the Tides Center, and UnidosUS (formerly the National Council of La Raza).
  • Although the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has many private sector members, over one million of its members are government employees. SEIU also supports illegal immigration and gives money to liberal organizations, including the Center for American Progress, the Democratic Attorneys General Association, MoveOn.org Civic Action, a Planned Parenthood fund, and the Tides Advocacy Fund.

Unsurprisingly, every, single one of these unions gives over 90 percent of its direct campaign contributions to Democrats. By comparison, the AFL-CIO, which consists of both public and private sector unions, has given between 67 percent and 83 percent of its direct campaign contributions to Democrats over the past five election cycles.

While Senate Republicans are unable to accomplish much legislatively due to the U.S. House being controlled by Democrats, Republicans at the state level have a great opportunity to show their support for taxpayers and fiscal responsibility. Currently, Republicans hold both a majority of state governors’ mansions and a majority of state legislative chambers. In Republican-run states that have not already enacted labor legislation along the lines of Wisconsin’s Act 10, Republican lawmakers should get to work and get it done.

Richard McCarty is the Director of Research at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.

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