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Sue Lani Madsen: Public sector unions use the state as collection agency

Sue Lani Madsen. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Sue Lani Madsen. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Payday once meant handing out pay envelopes stuffed with appropriate amounts of cash.

It made sense for the company paymaster to bundle distribution to a few private organizations, paying pledges to local charities or dues to skilled craft unions. Workers signed up for voluntary payroll deductions, and the paymaster handled collection and delivery.

But there is no longer any reason for an employer to provide bookkeeping and bill paying services. Payday is often direct deposit and disbursement is a few clicks away. Anyone can set up regular payments from their own bank account to pay rent, utility bills, charity pledges or private association dues. It’s time for change.

And change has public sector unions scared spitless.

Public sector unions in the 23 states lacking Right To Work legislation have become accustomed to a monopoly, using the state as their collection agent.

Change started with the Harris v. Quinn decision on June 30, 2014. SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana had contorted the definition of public employee to include home health aides whose only state connection is Medicaid funding intended for the benefit of their own severely disabled family member. SEIU in Washington had been using the same argument. Harris v. Quinn concluded the unions were wrong. Such workers have a right to opt out.

Washington unions anticipated the loss in Harris v. Quinn. In a June 3, 2014 memo to Governor Inslee, the Office of Financial Management reported that “unions have been making preparations” that “require state cooperation.” This memo goes on to list possible actions by the state to make it difficult for home health aides to freely exercise their choice to opt out, colluding with unions to maintain their monopoly.

Private sector unions negotiate with management in an adversarial relationship. Workers will opt in to unions if they represent their interests.

Each side advocates for the best interests of either union members or company shareholders, limited by the tolerance of customers for higher prices. Push prices too high, customers find other options and the business closes. Unions and management share an interest in a successful operation. The tension between shared interests and self-interest provides a natural balance of power.

When governments raise prices, it means raising taxes. The representative of state taxpayers is ultimately the Governor.

The largest single category of campaign donor to Governor Inslee in 2016 was unions, at about 25 percent, according to Maxford Nelsen, Director of Labor Policy for the Freedom Foundation.

“While 99 percent of union funds supported Inslee, polling showed 45 percent of union members voted for McKenna,” said Nelsen at a recent speech in Spokane. Public sector unions aren’t representing their members’ interests. And taxpayer representation is skewed by union money.

If unions don’t get what they want out of management directly, public unions have other options. One is to finance initiatives to change the law, easily outspending opponents attempting to explain where the worms are hiding in the apple pie. Another is legislative action to change the law in their favor.

If public sector unions don’t like the answers they get in negotiations or from the Legislature, they spend money to change the management. Lots of money. On average in state legislative races, democrats received one third of their support from union sources, and in some critical campaigns up to 75 percent, according to Nelsen.

Union supported bills introduced this year in the democrat-controlled Legislature are a preemptive reaction to another US Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME. Arguments were heard on Monday, and unions are anticipating a loss that would effectively free all public employees from mandatory union dues or fees. No more monopolies.

But just in case the Legislature they bought and paid for doesn’t come through this session, public sector unions have a membership drive underway. SEIU must be counting on their targets not to read the fine print in their form.

“This authorization shall remain in effect and shall be irrevocable” and will be “automatically renewed as an irrevocable monthly dues authorization from year to year unless I revoke it in writing during the window period referenced above,” it reads.

It’s a very small, obscure window period. And based on past actions, the union will fight to keep the window painted shut.

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