Saturday, February 23, 2013

No Labor Unions In Texas? Think Again...

Below is a column I wrote for the Georgetown Advocate, Hill Country News, and Jarrell Star Ledger  newspapers recently.  I am pleased to see that Attorney General Greg Abbott is paying attention to the problem of union growth in Texas and has proposed some new worker protections.  (H/T Push Junction.)  I sure hope more of our Texas legislators get on board.


Since Texas is classified as a “Right to Work” state, many people mistakenly believe that there are no labor unions in the state.  The truth is that state law only prohibits compulsory membership; unions in Texas may engage in collective bargaining and, in many cases, have the right to strike.  And while the U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that union membership declined across the nation last year, membership in Texas increased by 65,000.

Much of the Texas union growth actually occurred in the private sector, which is startling considering that private sector unions have been on the decline for several decades.  While private businesses cannot long survive under unsustainable union contracts, government entities are not necessarily responsive to economic realities; consequently most union growth has been in the public/government sector.

One possible explanation for the Texas uptick in private sector union membership stems from the increasing number of job-seekers fleeing other states.  While these Nouveau Texans come for better employment opportunities, they haven’t yet made the connection between union power and the economic decline of their home states, and they are importing union membership to Texas. 
But another reason for the uptick is that unions are targeting Texas for growth as part of a larger Democratic strategy.  Former Obama national field director and labor union activist Jeremy Bird is heading up “Battleground Texas,” which promises to incorporate local labor unions in their efforts to turn Texas ‘blue.’

At the local level, union bosses are especially targeting police, firefighters, and teachers, since these workers have a highly positive, ‘hero’ status with the general public.  It is psychologically difficult to differentiate between the local teacher and the ‘teachers’ union,’ and many voters mistakenly believe that unions are speaking for all teachers.  Another clever strategy in Texas is to completely avoid the word ‘union,’ with its negative connotations.  Most public sector unions in Texas refer to themselves as ‘associations,’ or other such benign terms.  For example, few Texans realize that “Education Round Rock” is actually a local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers union, an organization that enjoys a cozy relationship with President Obama, and has played an active role in opposing reforms in other states.

These local associations can wreak havoc with small municipalities.  In the small community of Leander, Texas, the local Professional Firefighters ‘Association’ (LPFA) is pressing for “civil service status.”  Because of loose state laws governing union power, the LPFA only needs 125 signatures to place the matter on the ballot this May.  Conversely, if voters wanted to end civil service, more than 50% of registered voters would need to approve.   Considering that local election turnout rarely tops 10%, the union’s status will be a permanent fixture. 
Civil Service status is highly problematic for a small community like Leander.   For starters, the city would have to pay increased benefits, create a new civil service commission, and hire a director and civil service attorney.  Even worse, the measure would effectively ban the 27 volunteer firefighters Leander now uses.  If the city hires only 1 new firefighter to replace every 3 volunteers, the annual cost to taxpayers would be $1,000,000 per year.  Leander already has the highest tax rate of any municipality in the region, and will be forced to pay even higher tax rates.  Unfortunately, as a local chapter of state and national labor unions, the LPFA will have ample manpower and financial resources for promoting the civil service measure and impacting future elections in the community.

While unions do not have to disclose all spending, the Labor Department reports unions spent at least $3.3 billion of union dues on political activity over a six-year period, and plenty of those dollars are spent to influence Texas elections.  Pro-big-labor elected officials close to President Obama are eager to dismantle Right to Work laws, and implement mandatory union membership and other unfair union policies. 
While we have enjoyed the benefits of our Right to Work status, we must not be complacent about union growth in Texas.  We must strengthen Right to Work protections by requiring the exact same standards for establishing or revoking civil service status for all public sector unions.  Furthermore, we need a ‘Paycheck Protection’ bill that would stop state and local governments from acting as union agents by collecting union dues from employees.  Instead of automatic deductions, union members should pay their dues directly to the union, and should be made aware of how those dues are spent. 
Texas is in relatively good shape, for now.  But unrestrained union power is not good news, and we need to act before it’s too late. 

No comments: