Economic Development

Missouri May Become Model State for Government Union Labor Relations

A right-to-work bill making its way through Missouri’s legislature is generating most of the labor-related headlines in the Show-Me state. However, government union reform legislation has been introduced that could make Missouri a model for other states to follow.

State Senator Bob Onder has introduced the Government Union Reform Act, Senate Bill 210, that brings greater accountability to government unions and freedom to public workers, which is desperately needed.

A recent comprehensive report compiled by the Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank in Pennsylvania, graded each state’s government union laws based on 11 measures related to taxpayer and public employees. Unfortunately, Missouri ranked near the bottom with a “D” grade. But the reform bill could turn things around.

Sen. Onder’s legislation, in part, increases worker freedom. It requires secret ballots in union elections that are conducted by the state. Currently, unions could organize public employees via card-check elections, which severely restricts worker choice. Under card check, a union would simply have to collect signed authorization cards from a majority of employees to become the certified labor representative. Without a secret-ballot election, workers are deprived of time to hear the pros and cons about unionization and the privacy needed to reflect on whether they want to authorize union representation. Card check also leaves workers open to union intimidation tactics.

Another provision of the bill that promotes worker freedom is requiring recertification elections of labor unions. If passed, labor unions will have to be reelected by a majority of employees they represent on an annual basis. This is a crucial reform because otherwise unions end up representing and collecting forced dues from workers who never voted for them. Regular elections ensure the majority of union workers are represented by the union of their choice, not one chosen by past workers.

Taxpayers are also protected by the proposed government union reform legislation. The Government Union Reform Act curtails the government union’s ability to impose contract provisions related to wages and benefits on the taxpayer via collective bargaining. While government unions may still bargain over wages and other monetary benefits, the public body in charge of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement may refuse to accept all or part of the provisions offered by the union. Without the government having the ability to accept or decline a union’s contract demands, collective bargaining effectively grants power over the public purse to union chiefs.

This taxpayer protection is achieved by eliminating arbitration requirements, which can force one party or other to accept a contract if the union and public body cannot agree to terms. As such, in the future, collective bargaining agreements with unsustainable wages and benefits are unlikely to become ratified and drain public resources. Collective bargaining reform of this nature is vital in guaranteeing that the special interests of government unions do not control the cost, effectiveness and availability of government services.

Another way the bill ensures public officials are acting in the public interest is granting the public access to collective bargaining meetings and ending a subsidy to government unions. Known as union release time, the subsidy policy allows government union employees to be paid with tax dollars while attending union meetings, lobbying and negotiating contracts. The cost of release time to Missouri taxpayers is mostly unknown because a majority of the state’s employers either do not track the union subsidy or else charge a cost-prohibitive fee to obtain the data, according to recent public records requests by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

But judging from the few government employers that fulfilled the information requests, the results were startling. At three school districts—Parkway, Lindbergh and Northwest R-I—the union employees were allowed to engage in partisan political activity while using release time. For example, Parkway union employees participated in the Communications Workers of America’s “Lobby Day,” where they lobbied against pro-worker legislation like Right to Work and paycheck protection laws. Other union employees at the school districts engaged in the National Education Association’s (NEA) “Capitol Action Day” and “Legislative Day,” part of the union’s lobbying strategy.

Ultimately, state lawmakers owe it to their constituents to enact laws that provide public employees with worker choice and ensure that the tax dollars financing public employment are well spent. Passing the Government Union Reform Act goes a long way toward achieving that goal.

Trey Kovacs is a policy analyst specializing in labor policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.


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