Much of the discussion of labor reform in the state of Missouri has focused on Right-to-Work, and rightfully so. Missouri’s status as a forced unionization state has held us back economically, and it is immoral to force a worker to join or monetarily support a union in order to keep his job. In the last five years, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and most recently, West Virginia have become Right-to-Work states. For the first time, Right-to-Work states outnumber forced unionization states by 26 to 24.
However, just as important is reform of our government union laws. Compared to private sector collective bargaining, which received a big boost from FDR’s National Labor Relations Act in 1935, government unions are relatively new. In fact, FDR himself opposed government union collective bargaining, saying, “All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” Nevertheless, with the dominance of Democrats in state and national politics in the 1960’s, government unionization gained a foothold and has expanded rapidly. Missouri passed its first law allowing public sector collective bargaining in 1965. Government union members now exceed private sector union members, and unionization in the government sector is rising rapidly.
It is important to recognize that government sector unions are fundamentally different than private sector unions. In the private sector, employers are individuals or private companies; government, and by extension, the people, are the employers in the case of government unions. In addition, government unions are active politically, and they often end up electing their own bosses. Finally, government unions often are not held to the standards of transparency and accountability of their counterparts in the private sector.
Government union reform, then, should have a number of crucial provisions. First, Missouri government workers should be given a voice in who represents them. Fewer than 5% of government workers have ever themselves voted for representation by their union. Workers should be allowed to vote as to whether to continue to be represented by a union. Workers in Wisconsin are allowed to exercise this right every year.
Second, government unions in Missouri operate in a cloud of secrecy relative to their counterparts in private sector unions. In 1959 in response to high-profile cases of union corruption and embezzlement, Congress enacted the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act to require yearly filings for private sector unions. These so-called LM filings allow workers to know where there union dues are going. In many cases, they have allowed interested parties, the workers themselves, or sometimes the press, to uncover embezzlement or corruption. A recent example was the 2011 investigation by the KC Star of the Boilermakers union. Government union reform should include financial reporting similar to that required in the private sector.
In additiion, some government union contracts contain provisions known as “evergreen clauses” which can bind parties to the original contract for years beyond the expiration of the original contract. This is a problem because taxpayers may be held to an agreement negotiated in good economic times, even when the Missouri economy, or the city or county, is in a downturn. Government union reform should include limitations on the length of collective bargaining contracts.
Finally, government union reform should include paycheck protection. Union dues often go to fund ideologically partisan issues and independent political expenditures. Without paycheck protection, governments, and by extension taxpayers, become dues collectors for union bosses. Ten states have some form of paycheck protection, with four states completely prohibiting payroll deduction of union dues and political contributions.
Governor-Elect Eric Greitens is fond of quoting his former boxing coach,
“If you want different, you’ve got to do different.” On November 8, 2016, Missouri voters spoke loud and clear that they want elected officials to
Reforming government union law in Missouri is pro-worker, pro-transparency, and pro-taxpayer. It is urgent that the General Assembly send government union reform to the Governor’s desk this session.