Utah’s leaders are showing courage and thought leadership in the state legislature through House Bill 241, sponsored by state Rep. Jordan Teuscher.
The bill plants an important flag in the battle against the ever-creeping power of public sector unions (especially teachers’ unions). It would ban public employers from deducting union dues from a public employee’s wages (with a few special exceptions), and it would ban using taxpayer dollars or public property to aid or discourage union drive efforts.
Teuscher told the local press that payroll union dues deductions are problematic because they cost the taxpayers money and manpower to administer. Teuscher’s bill doesn’t mention this reality that is worth pointing out: union leaders take their members’ money and donate almost exclusively to partisan Democrat and progressive causes. And right now they’re building their fundraising apparatus on the backs of taxpayers. This is enormously wrong.
Teuscher did also say that the bill levels the playing field in unionizing drives, which right now is tilted in favor of public sector unions.
“I have no problem with a labor union using public property in a meeting space as long as any other organization could do the same thing, and that’s all the bill is meant to do,” Teuscher stated. “So it doesn’t prohibit labor unions from being able to have meetings in public spaces. It just makes sure that they have the same requirements to use that space like any other place.”
One of the unions’ most powerful tools in collective bargaining is the threat of strikes, which can cripple government services ranging from garbage collection to transportation to schools. Even old-school liberals like New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and AFL-CIO President George Meany opposed public sector unions, even as they strongly supported unionization in the private sector. Public services shouldn’t be threatened, and the people (i.e., the government) cannot strike against the people.
This sentiment was shared by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the famously liberal president who ushered in massive government expansion. “Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relations and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government,” he cautioned. “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.”
Government workers go into public service ostensibly to serve taxpayers, not to hold them hostage. For that reason, only very few states allow strikes among police and firefighters, to ensure public safety, while more states allow strikes among teachers. While most states allow collective bargaining and wage negotiations among public sector workers, the opposite is true for the right to strike. Despite some bans on strikes, throughout history there have been cases of illegal strikes by government unions, particularly transit workers.
The government should not be able to use taxpayer money to organize unions that then extract pay raises that put them even further ahead of the people who hired them. For example, the Congressional Budget Office reported in 2017 that in almost every educational level (except doctorate or professional graduate degree), public sector employees got cushier compensation packages than private sector workers.
We obviously need safe and healthy work environments for public sector workers, though too often the true story of public sector workers’ compensation is untold. Government employee unions create a more expensive and protected class of workers at the expense of non-union workers, students, and taxpayers. They engage in politics to expand and protect the perks of government employees who are more likely to have attended college and garner salary and benefit packages more generous than the average private sector worker. Public sector unionized workers are nearly impossible to fire. This creates the phenomenon of “rubber rooms” filled with bad apple teachers banned from teaching, but they can’t be fired, so they sit and collect a paycheck while twiddling their thumbs.
I’m proud of Utah, my family’s home state, for this positive development. My grandfather served for 14 years in the Utah state legislature, and I’m sure he’d be proud to see these types of reformed public policies like the one introduced by Teuscher continuing in the Beehive State.