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OP-ED | Beginning of the End for Public Labor Unions?

by Heath W. Fahle | Jun 22, 2012 3:42pm
(15) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Opinion

Though Connecticut’s public employee unions remain the most dominant political force in the state, new evidence may mark the beginning of their decline.

Speaker Chris Donovan’s ongoing straw-donor scandal is slowly exposing the seedy side of the relationship between public labor unions and powerful politicians. The complaint that led to Donovan Finance Director Rob Braddock is remarkable for how revealing it is. The union organizers who beat their chests so proudly in defense of the common man seem to have strikingly little regard for him when he is one of their pawns: “I don’t know if you know the last time one of these a_shole drug addicts bounced a check even though we put the f_cking money right in their hand.”

Few believe that a vagabond campaign operative like Mr. Braddock was the real target of the FBI investigation that ensnared him. The real target, whoever it might be, seems likely to be another critical cog in the union political machine that keeps public labor in power.

As I wrote last week, the public unions’ assault on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proved a strategic blunder when he scored a surprisingly strong victory. The casus belli in that case, giving public employees the right to opt in to union dues rather than forcing them to opt out, re-emerged this week with potentially bigger consequences.

Policy nerds across the country held their breath on Thursday in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that will determine the fate of President Obama’s health insurance reforms. Though it ultimately did not come, more than 70,000 readers tuned in to the Live Blog at SCOTUSblog, the unofficial blog of record for all things Supreme Court, as decisions were announced.

While they waited, cases that might not have otherwise received much attention were suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Southern Union Company v. United States had geeks everywhere brushing up on their Sixth Amendment case law and tweeting furiously even though, as the liveblogger on SCOTUSblog put it, “ . . . you may not have been waiting for Southern Union, but Southern Union was probably waiting for Southern Union.”

It would have been just a blip on the radar had the next case announced been Florida v. HHS, but instead Knox v. SEIU became the highlight of the Supreme Court’s day.

The case dealt with a special assessment fee imposed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 1000 in California in 2005. SEIU failed to give nonmember employees notice of their ability to opt out of the fee, as is required.

In Justice Sam Alito’s Opinion of the Court, he wrote: “ . . . requiring objecting nonmembers to opt out of paying the nonchargeable portion of union dues —  as opposed to exempting them from making such payments unless they opt in —  represents a remarkable boon for unions.”

Although the impact of the ruling in the specific case is quite narrow, the implication of a Supreme Court with a stated majority preference for opt-in political dues is enormous. Wisconsin’s union ranks were cut in half after the Walker reforms gave public workers there a similar option. Doing the same in Connecticut would shake the political power structure to its core.

In light of all that has gone on in the last month, however, it would be for the better.

Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com


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(15) Comments

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | June 23, 2012  8:47am

GoatBoyPHD

Wisconsin AFSCME dues payers declined from 62,818 to 28,745 in one year. Over half the union were held captive by antiquated union slavery laws.

In 2005 16,408 Indiana state workers paid union dues out (66%). Today, after governor Mitch Daniels limited collective bargaining, 1,409 (7%) pay dues.

Raises in Indiana are now merit-based, and overall total state employment is down about 6,000 workers to 27,400, mostly through attrition.

CT’s education unions lobbied against $300 million in Federal funding? Wow. Raise taxes but don’t inconvenience the teachers. That was the message?

posted by: perturbed | June 23, 2012  10:06am

perturbed

This is off-topic (and my views are not typically aligned with the Yankee Institute), but this is so well said it bears repeating:

Heath Fahle wrote:

“The union organizers who beat their chests so proudly in defense of the common man seem to have strikingly little regard for him when he is one of their pawns…”

Ain’t that the truth!

You applied that thought to a specific statement by a specific individual, but it’s every bit as pertinent to the beatings rank-and-file union members endured at the hands of their own union bosses during the SEBAC 2011 Agreement “negotiations.”

As our union bosses were busy buying political capital for themselves and the legislature, they they paid for it with virtually all support they might once have had from the rank-and-file. The path they’ve chosen, on which national political motives trump the interests of their own dues-paying members, is unsustainable.

Our huge national unions are manufacturing their own demise.

And they’re too arrogant to see it.

—perturbed

posted by: brutus2011 | June 23, 2012  11:43am

brutus2011

Overall, I am against public sector unions. And overall, I am for private sector unions.

The main reason is that private sector union activity that causes inefficiency is limited by the probability that the company will not survive unless union activity contributes to efficiency.

With many public sector unions, there is little limit to the inefficiency of its workers as long as political lobbying is effective—definitely not good for public sector employee efficiency or for taxpayer’s realizing value for their dollars.

On the other hand, some public sector union’s main function is to check the arbitrary actions of administrative function—who themselves owe their high paying jobs to political patronage and cronyism.

So, what is the answer?

posted by: CT Jim | June 23, 2012  10:03pm

Good try Heath, lets be realistic here you work for the Yankee Institute a FAR right think tank hell bent on taking away working families rights and funded by right wing groups headed by the Koch brothers who have pushed to make the US the largest third world country in the world and working to pass laws to restrict voters from voting. The Ruling you talk about centers on one area and that area only. Does it make unions jump thru a few more hoops? yes. But it may also lead to where corporations will have to ask every invester if they agree to let thier share price to include spending on political contributions which blows a huge hole in ccitizens united which may lead to having that ruling eventually overturned. Funny that the opinion was written by the right wing Alito who shook his head and said not true when the President rightfully so assailed that ruling. The only thing not true was Alitos opinion. You and the Goat man are so giddy but also reming me of what Hitler did in 1933 when he said we must take away the unions right to collectively bargain, take thier money and jail thier leaders. Well you got 2 of 3 in Wisconsin but the american public is getting wise to your tactics as they did during WWII so dont declare victory too soon. In the end good will win over evil so enjoy your battle victory but the war is far from over.

posted by: CT Jim | June 23, 2012  10:05pm

the difference between Donovan and your boy Rowland is Donovan is innocent and your corrupt felon is the TARGET of another FBI investigation. Lets us know when his going away party is planned… Wouldn’t miss it

posted by: THREEFIFTHS | June 23, 2012  10:17pm

We’re Being Played for Suckers
by DAVID MACARAY

http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/06/20/were-being-played-for-suckers/

posted by: THREEFIFTHS | June 23, 2012  10:26pm

When will this end.

JPMorgan Gets $14 Billion a Year From the US Government

By Pat Garofalo, ThinkProgress

24 June 12

http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/318-66/12054-jpmorgan-gets-14-billion-a-year-from-the-us-government

posted by: Lawrence | June 24, 2012  9:22am

Heath, I agree with you on the Supreme Court decision, which I happen to agree with, but would argue that John Rowland’s “under the table” payment with Apple Rehab is as much a symbol of “cancerous capitalism” as the union involvement you cite.

I don’t expect you’d write a column on that, but someone easily could.

posted by: and 1 | June 24, 2012  11:47am

This is not just about fees payers.  It is about just how upset rank and file dues paying members have been neglected, under-represented and basically mistreated during the past 15 years or so. As union officials gain off of the sweat of the membership- the membership has seen and now desire change.  Guess Sal won’t be able to keep affording those custom made suits????

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | June 24, 2012  2:58pm

GoatBoyPHD

Three-fifths—-subsidies to the JP Morgan’s won’t stop under the Democrats,  OK. We know that now (sone aren’t at all surprised).


The bigger question is if those loans are necessary and world liquidity is so screwed up the US needs to favor (or partner with) certain banks just to keep the money flowing.

Subsidies buy some political favors in time of national crisis and given the sinking IMF and Euro it’s likely going to continue until we crash and burn.

It’s as bad as Goldman’s commodity storage play: Is it a unilateral decision or is national defense involved for the US to become hoarders and tading profits the Goldman vig? 


And to the union guys: you made your mistakes when backing off SustiNet, and talked down hundreds of millions of dollars in government money for education, and failed to get the votes for minumum wage increases. Losing the private sector blue collar worker is going to cost you your collective bargaining rights as in Wisconsin and Indiana. The tunnel vision of the rank and file is just as narrow as the leadership. It’s the same clusterfrack that pulled down uions in other states. It’s the Me ME ME! complex.

There are countless trade union theory books on where the union screwed up by beconing another oligarchy and stopped spreading the ‘revolution’ and is now a part of the problem.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS | June 24, 2012  3:54pm

“History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.”                   

Martin Luther King Jr
“Although it is true that only about 20 percent of American workers are in unions, that 20 percent sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to the unions.  One thing that corporations do not do is give out money out of the goodness of their hearts.” 

Molly Ivins

posted by: Heath | June 25, 2012  11:41am

Heath

CT Jim said:

Good try Heath, lets be realistic here you work for the Yankee Institute a FAR right think tank hell bent on taking away working families rights and funded by right wing groups headed by the Koch brothers who have pushed to make the US the largest third world country in the world and working to pass laws to restrict voters from voting.

I suppose everyone has their own view, but “far right wing” to me would be far more statist in nature, no? The view that people should keep the money they earn and government shouldn’t choose winners and losers is pretty opposite to that. We don’t have the same view, Jim, but that doesn’t make either of us extremists.

As to the “making the US the largest third world country in the world”, I’ve written here several times about the changing global economy. I see the future of the US economy as leading the evolution from an industrial-manufacturing to an information-technology basis. That’s not a recipe for third world status - thats a mission statement for staying on top of the first world. And it isn’t for greed. Its because I think that a strong, free, prosperous America is better for the world’s people than the alternative.

posted by: Heath | June 25, 2012  11:45am

Heath

THREEFIFTHS wrote:

When will this end.
JPMorgan Gets $14 Billion a Year From the US Government
By Pat Garofalo, ThinkProgress
24 June 12

Agreed. I’ve written about backwardness of government picking winners and losers before. Will inevitably do so again.

posted by: Heath | June 25, 2012  12:08pm

Heath

Lawrence wrote:

Heath, I agree with you on the Supreme Court decision, which I happen to agree with, but would argue that John Rowland’s “under the table” payment with Apple Rehab is as much a symbol of “cancerous capitalism” as the union involvement you cite.
I don’t expect you’d write a column on that, but someone easily could.

I see your point about the two situations, though they seem like opposites to me:

In the Donovan case, the political force (public labor unions) is accused of illegally empowering a politician in exchange for ensuring and expanding the power of the political force.

In the Rowland case, a politician (LWF) is accused of illegally empowering a political force (Rowland) in exchange for ensuring and expanding the power of the politician.

posted by: Heath | June 25, 2012  12:30pm

Heath

and 1 said:

This is not just about fees payers.  It is about just how upset rank and file dues paying members have been neglected, under-represented and basically mistreated during the past 15 years or so. As union officials gain off of the sweat of the membership- the membership has seen and now desire change.  Guess Sal won’t be able to keep affording those custom made suits????

A couple good points here. It is ultimately the rank-and-file folks that are getting hosed by the unions, except they get hosed three ways: (1) The union bosses spend a lot of time, money, and energy talking about how much they care about their “brothers and sisters” in labor. One problem: as noted above, the wiretaps reveal that they don’t care. (2) The bosses tell their members they are getting a good deal because of the union, but they are really getting a bad deal. Their pension money is being used to keep the ship of state afloat, for example. (3)As they often note, the rank-and-file are taxpayers, too. So they are getting it from both sides.

Oh, and secret way (4) Because of membership as a condition of employment and automatically deducted dues, there isn’t much the rank and file can do about it.