Unions minus Coercion Equal Nothing

A recent piece in the WSJ is a classic illustration of the fact that the legendary political power of the vaunted labor unions is based at this point only on government-sanctioned coercion.

One of the biggest supporters of Democrat politicians is the ultra-leftist Service Employees International Union (SEIU).  In 2005, the Democratic governor of blue-state Michigan, a socialist named Jennifer Granholm, gave the SEIU the power to unionize the 40,000 or so home health care workers in the state.  These estimable folk are usually independent contractors – i.e., small business owners – or just family members caring for disabled people, often elderly people.  Of course, the SEIU – like all unions – is desperately scrambling for more members to shore up its ranks.  Union-tool Granholm held that because these workers get Medicaid subsidies, they were to be considered “public employees.”

Other states also have deliberately classed home health care workers as “public,” including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.  All of them are solidly controlled by Democrats politicians – by pure coincidence, no doubt!

In the subsequent unionization vote, out of 41,000 eligible workers, only 6,949 actually voted to join the union. One thousand and seven voted to oppose, and the other 33,000 workers didn’t bother to vote, for whatever reasons.  On this basis, the union was awarded the right to coerce dues out of not just the 6,949 who wanted to be in the SEIU, but also the other 34,000 who were either outright opposed or simply unaware or indifferent.

These dues were considerable.  The SEIU was allowed to confiscate 2.75% of each home care worker’s Medicaid support, which gave the union fat cats an average of $5.7 million in additional dues – $34 million total from 2006 to 2012.

Naturally, much of this money was conveniently funneled to elect Democrats.  Behold the “public employee union shakedown cycle”: corrupt politicians (almost always Democrats) enable unions to organize government workers and coerce them into paying dues, then venal unions kick back a huge chunk of those dues to re-elect the crooked politicians, and then the politicians loot the public treasury to further enrich the unions.  It’s all very convenient – unless, naturally, you are one of the victims (i.e., the taxpayers).

Well, in 2012, Michigan’s state legislature – which had turned Republican – voted to end Grandholm’s crooked deal.  The home health care workers were no longer categorized as “public employees,” so they were liberated from the SEIU slave masters.  The Michigan SEIU health care worker division immediately lost 80% of its union membership.  The union masters saw their “dues” drop from over $12 million in 2012 to about $7 million in 2013.

Now, in 2012, the state also voted to become a right-to-work state.  The question the Journal raises is whether the state will see a drop of its public employees in unions, which currently stands at 17.5%.

The Journal piece brings to mind the classic recent Heritage Foundation study by James Sherk of the effects of “paycheck protection” laws upon union contributions to political campaigns..

Paycheck protection laws guarantee a worker’s rights given to him by the Supreme Court (in Communication Workers v. Beck) to stop his union from using his dues to support political causes he abhors.  Unfortunately, the Supreme Court didn’t specify how that right was to be enacted: does the burden fall upon the worker to request a refund of his dues used for politics (“opt out”), or put the burden on the union to request written permission from him before it uses any of his dues for politics (“opt in”)?  Unions uniformly chose to make the worker opt out, and invariably make it hard for him to do so – making him run a gauntlet, and subjecting him to reprisals.  A paycheck protection law essentially requires the opt-in process.

You can well imagine how profoundly unions, and especially public employee unions, loathe paycheck protection.

Five states have successfully enacted paycheck protection laws: Michigan, Washington, and Wyoming (applied to all unions), as well as Idaho and Utah (applied only to public employee unions).  (One state, Ohio, passed paycheck protection, only to see the leftist judges on the state supreme court enjoin the law).

Guess what the Sherk found.  The union masters were quite right to worry about paycheck protection laws, because such laws essentially emasculate the unions’ political power.

To be precise: the insightful Dr. Sherk found that at the 99% confidence level, paycheck protection laws are correlated with a decline in public employee union campaign donations by about 50%.  Of course, correlation doesn’t mean causation, but Sherk argues compellingly that it does in this case.

All of this suggests a great three-year strategy for the Republicans, assuming they can think that far ahead and keep some semblance of cohesion.  First, focus like a laser on taking back the Senate, thus removing the vile and venal Harry Reid (D-NV)'s control of the chamber.  Second, Republicans should focus on holding hearings exposing the corrupt and ineffective Obama administration’s multitudinous failings, since the mainstream media have shown no willingness to seriously investigate them.  Have joint select committees on Benghazi-gate, IRS-gate, green energy-gate, GM-gate, Russia-gate, Syria-gate, China-gate, ObamaCare-gate, and so on.

Expose Obama for what he is once and for all: the worst president in modern times.  Obama has been far more corrupt than Nixon, and more feckless than Carter, but he has been enabled by the MSM.

This would pave the way for the Republicans to win the presidency in 2016, Lord willing.  Should the Republicans manage that, they then should think big.  Push immediately for a national right-to-work law, and a national paycheck protection law.  The moral case for these is compelling, as I have argued in an essay entitled “The Ethics of Closed Shops” (in my new book Philosophic Thoughts).

Moreover, the political case is compelling as well: for decades, unions have been able to control government at all levels by using stolen dues from cowed workers to elect Democrat puppets to do the bidding of the union princes.  Put a stop to this, once and for all, and not only do you save the taxpayer’s money, but you defund the left at the same time.

The day the public unions lose their power to cheat the rest of us, there will be a shout of freedom such as the world has never heard...at least since the Roman Empire fell.

Gary Jason is an academic philosopher and a senior editor of Liberty.  His new book, Philosophic Thoughts: Essays on Logic and Philosophy, is available from Peter Lang Publishers and Amazon.

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