“I believe there is a different way – and that is to work with the Republican members of every labor union and help empower those Republican union members to put additional pressure on their union leadership to spend Republican dues money on Republican causes.”
–  Jim Brulte, Chairman, California State Republican Party

Well that’s one way. And if you are tasked with reviving a political party that is financially challenged, ideologically conflicted, with dwindling membership and almost no power in the state legislature, you face tough choices.

The concept of constructive engagement with members of labor unions is a good one, although recognizing the validity of the concept is not the same as endorsing specific tactics. If unions, especially public sector unions, begin to financially support both major political parties more equally, anyone who believes in limited government will be in for a long, cold winter of cascading disappointments. There will still be choices for voters. They will vote Republican to expand the security state. Or they will vote Democrat to expand the welfare state. And crony capitalists, already on the ascendancy in America, will work with the mega-unions who run the government to regulate, crush, and consolidate the competition. What remains of American pluralism will give way to a unionized, self-interested, super-sized government and a private sector utterly dominated by corporate monopolies.

Is that the “different way” that anyone wants?

Here’s another different way: Recognize that public sector unions are the primary threat to America’s economic competitiveness, democratic institutions, and civil liberties. Identify reform-minded members of public sector unions who also recognize the threat their unions represent, and provide them with resources to mount an effective campaign of internal resistance to public sector union power.

Here is a list of some policies that might inform an internal insurgency by union reformers stuck inside unions:

A PETITION TO PUBLIC SECTOR UNION LEADERS SIGNED BY THEIR REFORMIST MEMBERS:

As public servants who believe in financially sustainable government, who believe in providing all American citizens with the same taxpayer funded formulas and incentives to earn job, health, and retirement security benefits, who believe in preserving the integrity of our elections and our democratic institutions, and to that end, hereby petition our public sector union leadership to adopt the following reforms:

(1) Public employee union membership shall be voluntary. Public sector unions cannot require any employee to join their unions, nor to pay the “agency fee,” nor to be required to participate in the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Public sector union participation by individuals, at all levels of participation, shall be strictly opt-in and may be terminated at any time.

(2) Public sector unions cannot negotiate for long term benefits such as retirement pensions or retirement health care. To the extent public sector unions can collectively bargain for current pay and benefits, these contracts shall not extend beyond the term of office of whatever elected officials may approve these packages.

(3) Public sector unions are not permitted to use their funds for any political activity whatsoever. If public employees wish to form voluntary associations to lobby for political issues or support political candidates, they must do it entirely outside the union organization.

(4) No government agency may be used as a collection agent for union dues. Public sector unions must bill their members using their own resources, not rely on the government payroll department to collect these dues for them.

(5) Public sector unions will adhere to transparency requirements that match or exceed those that currently apply to publicly traded corporations and private sector unions, including detailed disclosure of operating expenses, membership data, sources of revenue, political contributions, and soft political and educational outreach expenses.

(6) Public sector unions must hold a recertification vote every year via secret ballot. Unless a majority of the workers eligible to be represented by a union vote to recertify the union, it will lose its rights to collectively bargain and will be dissolved.

This is constructive engagement that is founded on a principle – public sector unions must be strictly regulated if not eliminated because public sector unions broker, enable and corrupt corporate and financial power. Without their blessing and support, crony capitalists would not as successfully lobby for anti-competitive laws, pension bankers would not have a taxpayer-guaranteed virtually unlimited source of funds to invest, and bond underwriters would not be collecting commissions on hundreds of billions in bond issues necessitated by spending deficits. Public sector unions are also facilitators of authoritarianism, because every new law and every new intrusion on civil liberties is accompanied by a need for more unionized government workers (ref. “Why Bankers and Public Sector Unions are Allies, not Enemies“).

Constructive engagement founded on pragmatism – public sector unions cannot be defeated so therefore we must make them give us money too – is easy to criticize when you aren’t the one who has to make the tough decisions. But if limited government and a competitive private sector truly leads to more freedom and more upward mobility for more citizens, then accepting money from public sector unions requires moving further away from those principles.

And from a pragmatic standpoint, strategically speaking, there are millions of private sector workers whose opportunities have been stunted by the axis of unionized government, an overbuilt financial sector, and monopolistic corporations. Their political allegiance, currently up for grabs, is put at risk by accepting political contributions from public sector unions. To mitigate that, if one wishes to constructively engage with public sector unions by taking their money, they might upgrade to full spectrum constructive engagement, by circulating documents like the above petition to their full membership.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Public Policy Center.

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