The Corner

Government-Union Reform Spreads Beyond Wisconsin

The fight in Wisconsin is about who controls government: the voters, through their elected representatives, or government unions? Collective bargaining means the government cannot employ workers except on terms the union accepts. Government unions also politicize the civil service — the money they collect through the state payroll system makes them major political players. Unsurprisingly, unions want government to serve their interests instead of the public’s.

Fortunately, other states are following Governor Walker’s lead. Many states across the country have passed or are moving to pass legislation restoring voter control over their government:

Alabama: Alabama recently passed legislation prohibiting the use of the state payroll system to transfer money to political organizations — including government unions. The Alabama Education Association contends this will cost them millions in lost dues and is challenging the law in court. Since the Supreme Court already upheld a similar law in Idaho, they will probably fail.

Idaho: The state legislature passed a bill limiting school-district collective bargaining to just salary and wages. The legislation eliminates tenure and seniority-based layoffs. Elected school districts will now have the power to reward good teachers and remove bad ones.

Florida: Committees in both the state house and the state senate have taken important steps toward restoring a nonpartisan civil service. They have passed legislation prohibiting the state and local governments from collecting union dues through their payroll systems. If passed by the full legislature this would end a major taxpayer subsidy for union political fundraising.

Kansas: The Kansas House of Representatives passed a paycheck protection bill. The legislation prohibits government unions from collecting money used for political purposes through the state payroll system. Instead, the union would have to persuade workers to write a separate check to cover political expenses. Unions are predictably apoplectic, but the legislation recently passed a state senate committee.

Oklahoma: A state house committee passed a bill allowing large cities to choose whether or not to give unions a monopoly over municipal work forces. The Oklahoma senate also passed a bill reforming binding arbitration. Like many other states, Oklahoma prohibits government employees from striking against the public. Instead binding arbitration resolves contract disputes. With arbitration, an outside official listens to both sides and hands down a binding contract, taking spending decisions out of the hands of elected officials. The reforms change the standards arbitrators use to make them fairer to taxpayers.

Ohio: By a one-vote margin, the Ohio senate passed a bill preventing government employees from striking against the public, requiring government employees to pay more of the cost of their benefits, and taking the “binding” out of binding arbitration. Contract disputes would go to arbitrators, but local elected officials would have the final say on whether or not to accept the proposed contract. The state house is currently conducting hearings on the bill.

Nebraska: Nebraska governor Dave Heineman and many prominent legislators are pushing for a complete overhaul of government unions. One proposal would make arbitrators’ decisions purely advisory. Another ends binding arbitration altogether. Either proposal would return control over government to the voters and their elected representatives.

Tennessee: A state senate committee passed a bill restoring voter control over education policy. The legislation prohibits school districts from giving education unions a monopoly over their teaching workforces. A state house committee just passed a weaker version of the bill that gives school districts control over merit pay and firing decisions, but retains union influence over the wages and benefits taxpayers pay. A companion bill would stop subsidizing union fundraising with payroll deductions of dues.

Government unions drive up costs for taxpayers and prevent elected officials from implementing needed reforms. They are the reason the government does not fire failing teachers or abusive social workers. Now is the time to restore a nonpartisan civil service and voter control over their government.

James Sherk is senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation.

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