Waaay out of touch

By Steven Miller
  • Monday, May 10, 2004

One of the most important, interesting and yet virtually unreported news stories of the raucous 2003 Legislature was the unanimous lockstep effort of Assembly Democrats to cut the heart out of Nevada’s right-to-work law.

It was important because the right to work is fundamental to personal liberty. Plus, in the form of the right-to-work law, it’s also basic to the Silver State’s long-running prosperity and exceptionally low poverty rate.

It was also interesting because a recent survey from Zogby International establishes clearly that what the Assembly majority—led by Speaker Richard Perkins and Majority Leader Barbara Buckley—attempted to do was waaay beyond what most Americans—even most union members—can stomach.

The vehicle for this monkey business was Assembly Bill 182. Co-sponsored by 20 of the 23 Assembly Democrats, then passed by all 23, the measure—had the Senate approved—would have converted Nevada from a right-to-work state to an “agency shop” state.

Under “agency” rules, even if employees don’t want to join a union at the business or government bureau where they work, they can still be forced to financially support it—just as heavily as do voluntary members.

According to Zogby’s polling, 73 percent of Americans oppose such rules. Indeed, even 54 percent of union members oppose them. Instead, both groups agree, “Individual workers should be free to decide for themselves whether or not to join or support a union, and nobody should be required to join or support a union as a condition of employment.”

The Zogby surveys—conducted in February for the Public Service Research Foundation—can be found on-line under the title “Nationwide Attitudes Toward Unions” at www.psrf.org.

Much of the polling revealed positive attitudes within the public and union members regarding labor organizations. But it also turned up strong opposition among union rank and file to union leadership in three areas:

  • Most union members (especially those under 50) support the right to work—the idea that individual workers should be free to decide for themselves whether or not to join or support a union.
  • A solid majority of union members do not think that members should be required to contribute through their dues to organizations with which they disagree.
  • Finally, concerned about abuse and corruption, even more union members than adults overall strongly support detailed financial reporting by union leadership. Union leadership, on the other hand, is aggressively fighting Bush administration initiatives that would force the reporting that the union rank and file desires.

In all three areas, here in Nevada, the supposed heirs of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson side with the union bosses rather than the union rank and file or the general public.

Why? Almost certainly it’s because legislators, too, want the workers’ dough. After all, if individual employees can choose whether to support a union or not, that means less cash for the union bosses to later dole out as campaign funds. It’s the same if union members get greater control over how or whether their dues are spent. Ditto if union leaders must provide members with detailed financial accountings regularly—i.e., before running for reelection.

Of course, during the 2003 session, when the Assembly majority and the union bosses put on their “no free rider” melodrama, the grab for non-union workers’ money proceeded under what’s called the “compulsory unionism two-step.”

First step: The union bosses get elected politicians to give them the power to require every person in a so-called bargaining unit to be represented by the union if a mere majority of workers vote for union representation. A good Nevada example is the 1969 Dodge Act—where, if 51 employees in a 100-employee local government bargaining unit vote for the union and the other 49 vote against it, they all now lose their individual rights to negotiate with the employer. Instead, the union bosses now get monopoly control over all workplace bargaining. And while the 51 gave up their bargaining rights willingly, the 49 did not: Their rights to represent themselves were taken from them involuntarily—because the union insisted on “exclusive representation,” i.e., total monopoly control over all workplace bargaining.

Step two: The union bosses now go back to the politicians. “Oh, oh,” they wail, “The situation is so unfair. Our monopoly over workplace bargaining turns out to mean—of all things—a monopoly over workplace bargaining! Why, we even have to represent all those workers who don’t want us but we insisted on representing!

“So … just give us their money, too!”

Steven Miller is policy director of the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

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