Opinion

The cost of organized labor could be going up

Politics, money and power always make for good intrigue, especially when they involve labor unions.

The State of Labor 2008, a report released for Labor Day by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, reviews the inherent costs involved in collective bargaining, the highlights of collective bargaining expansion in key states and potential solutions for rolling back the costly expansions.

Public-sector labor unions are exploring ways to use almost any government subsidy sent to a private business as a pretext for unionizing those business owners and their workers as public employees.

Targets include daycare providers, in-home healthcare workers, foster parents and others.

These private businesses and their workers are being forced to join a union and pay dues or fees for representation services they may not want.

By allowing these industries to have access to the bargaining table, private-sector workers are turning into de facto state employees, potentially costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

These expansions allow money from public sources to be funneled as dues to union middlemen, who then turn around and ask the public for more money. Taxpayers are on the hook for these increases in program costs and worker pay and benefits.

By redefining private workers into public employees, unions can increase in size, power and influence, at the expense of taxpayers.

The hidden costs of collective bargaining often go unnoticed. Phil Maymin, with the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, debunks the rationale behind three common justifications for public-sector collective bargaining.

According to Maymin, even unionized government workers will not ultimately benefit from collective bargaining. Instead, he believes “the only winners in public-sector bargaining are the public-sector bargainers” and concludes that “the economic impact of public-sector bargaining is far too enormous to possibly justify.”

The costs of bargaining have helped increase state payroll and benefit expenditures in Washington state. Between 2004 and 2007, spending on state salaries (excluding K-12 education) increased from $1.9 billion to $2.2 billion due, in part, to changes in state law that strengthened state worker collective bargaining.

State spending on employee health benefits increased $100 million during the same time period. During those same years, public-sector labor unions spent more than $1.1 million on direct campaign contributions to candidates for governor and the state legislature.

These figures do not include “soft money” given to political party committees or spent on independent expenditures. Eighty-one percent of those contributions went to Democratic candidates, who responded by working with some Republicans to pass at least eight bills expanding collective bargaining rights.

Washington legislators granted collective bargaining rights to family child-care providers, adult care homes and graduate students at public universities.

Legislative changes also included removing public access to collective bargaining negotiations between ferry worker unions and the state, allowing long-term care workers to bargain with the state for training money, attempting to grant bargaining to certain foster parents and effectively ending protections on union use of member money for political purposes.

This scenario is not limited to Washington. Ben DeGrow, policy analyst at the Independence Institute, documents the growth of public-sector collective bargaining in Colorado. An executive order by Gov. Bill Ritter does not use the term “collective bargaining.”

Instead, it authorizes “employee partnerships,” which, DeGrow concludes, “meet the classic definition of collective bargaining.” As a result, proponents of worker freedom have worked to place a right-to-work constitutional amendment on the upcoming November ballot.

The best way to prevent abuse and truly reform labor policy is to end compulsory unionism and ensure a free market in labor representation.

Consequently, state legislators should apply open meetings laws to collective bargaining negotiations, ensure that union workers have access to their unions’ financial statements, enact stiff regulations protecting the paychecks of workers from unwanted union political spending and prohibit public employee strikes.

Taxpayers and legislators need to start questioning the financial stranglehold the collective bargaining process has on public budgets. As governments spend more money on higher wages for more workers, there is less money available for states to operate, maintain current projects and fix or repair failing infrastructure.

Since many of these options are not currently available to taxpayers, the only public influence is through registering approval or disapproval of such policies at the ballot box.

Sonya Jones is director of the

Labor Policy Institute and

Scott Dilley a policy analyst with the

Evergreen Freedom Foundation.

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