The Corner

Wisconsin Union Bosses Make the Best Case Against Forced Dues

Last month, Big Labor–launched recall elections, we were told, would wipe out members of the Wisconsin state senate who . . . well, it wasn’t entirely clear. 

By looking at the television ads paid for with union dues, you wouldn’t have the slightest idea that’s what the fight was all about in the first place. “The millions of dollars in commercials in support of the Democrats did not talk about unions,” one Wisconsin union official wrote online.

After the recall elections, Republicans still control the state senate. And Big Labor isn’t one step closer toward repealing Gov. Scott Walker’s labor-law reforms.

All the union bosses can point to for their $20 million forced-dues campaign are a couple of hollow victories. 

One pro-forced-unionism challenger defeated an incumbent Republican in a district Barack Obama carried with 61 percent of the vote in 2008. The other Republican who lost was dogged by a tawdry infidelity scandal, yet his union-label opponent only scraped by with 51 percent.

There’s one simple reason the union bosses and their puppet politicians didn’t bring up the state’s new public-sector right-to-work law on the campaign trail and over the airwaves: Right to work is popular with the people.

Poll after poll shows that 80 percent of American voters agree with the principle that no worker should be compelled to join or pay dues to a union to get or keep a job. The same percentage of union members themselves agree. In a poll of rank-and-file union members conducted just before the midterm congressional elections, the National Right to Work Foundation found that union members overwhelmingly distrust the union hierarchy’s priorities. This year’s battle in Wisconsin illustrates why.

First, the union bosses convinced their allies in the state senate to flee to Illinois to delay the vote. They bused in out-of-state protesters. They encouraged teacher-union militants to call in sick, shutting down schools. No tactic was off limits — anything to protect the union bosses’ forced-dues power.

When all that failed, they poured millions of dollars in forced-dues cash in a campaign to elect a state-supreme-court judge who complained about “overreaching by the executive and legislative branches” — a not-so veiled attempt to turn a nonpartisan judicial election into a referendum on Scott Walker. But the people of Wisconsin wouldn’t have it, and she lost.

Then the state supreme court denied a frivolous attempt to overturn the new labor-law-reform bill, so union lawyers filed a new lawsuit in federal court. Meanwhile, Big Labor double-downed on recall elections. 

Ironically, by throwing tens of millions of dollars into one doomed political campaign after another, the union chiefs reinforced the case against forced dues.

You see, government-sector union bosses enjoy a privilege shared by no other private organization or special interest. The government seizes union dues straight from workers’ paychecks. The union hierarchy spends that cash on politicking to elect favored candidates. And then the politicians do the union bosses’ bidding.

Governor Walker’s reforms change all that by shutting down that vicious cycle and restoring power to where it belongs: with the people of Wisconsin. Union bosses must now compete for workers’ dollars. And if they choose to spend union dues on electioneering, the union bosses do so at their own peril.

The liberal blogger Mickey Kaus recognized Big Labor’s true motives in a post in March. “[T]he elimination of the mandatory dues checkoff,” Kaus explained, “is what really terrifies unions, because it might dry up the political funds they use to elect candidates.”

Barack Obama’s presidency demonstrates what union bosses can get for subsidizing politicians. Obama has stacked federal agencies such as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and National Mediation Board (NMB) with former union officials who haven’t been shy about ramming one forced-unionism power grab after another through bureaucratic channels.

One of the most egregious cases is the NLRB acting general counsel’s outrageous complaint against Boeing for creating thousands of new jobs in right-to-work South Carolina. The complaint is a tacit admission of the power of Right to Work. In the private sector, worker freedom helps spur economic growth, investment, and job creation.

In the government sector, Wisconsin’s reforms are paying off. School districts report new flexibility to make the best decisions for students and parents. Local governments are finding innovative ways to save the taxpayers money without first getting the approval of self-interested union moguls. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Education Association Council — the teacher union that spent more money on lobbying the state legislature in 2009 and 2010 than any other group — announced in August that it would lay off 40 percent of its staff. Waste goes hand-in-hand with forced dues.

And another failed $20 million forced-dues campaign later, the case to end forced unionism once and for all by passing a right-to-work law just got even stronger.

— Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Committee and the National Right to Work Foundation.


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