Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Public Sector Labor Unions – Problems and Solutions for Reform
According to U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 14.5 million Americans belong to a union. 35.3 percent of government employees are unionized. Because these individuals are on the public’s payroll, taxpayers and policymakers must demand accountability and transparency from unions representing public employees. Every individual should have the right to associate—or refrain from association—with an organization they believe best represents their interests.
In all but seven states, public employees are forced to be represented at the bargaining table by the certified union—even in many of the 24 right-to-work states where employees cannot be forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment. Unions serve as a valid role in the workplace, but if a government employee does not feel his or her needs are being met adequately through representation, then he or she should be able to switch unions or choose self-representation.
To protect employee choice regarding union involvement and strengthen union transparency and accountability to members and taxpayers, ALEC members have crafted several model policies that can serve as solution for the states.
Problem: In many states, public employees can be forced to pay union dues as a condition of employment.
Solution: The ALEC Right to Work Act emphasizes the individual choice to refrain or join a union voluntarily, and outlines penalties for any person who directly or indirectly violates this law. Despite vehement opposition to right-to-work laws by organized labor, these policies do not destroy unions, they simply make them more accountable to individuals who want to belong to the union. As the Southern region director for the United Auto Workers, Gary Casteel, points out, some union organizers prefer right-to-work environments exactly for these reasons. “So if I go to an organizing drive, I can tell these workers, ‘If you don’t like this arrangement, you don’t have to belong.’ Versus, ‘If we get 50 percent of you, then all of you have to belong, whether you like to or not.’ I don’t even like the way that sounds, because it’s a voluntary system, and if you don’t think the system’s earning its keep, then you don’t have to pay.”
Problem: Monopoly bargaining laws dictate that if an employee chooses not to join a union he or she must still be represented by certified union at the bargaining table.
This also requires unions to represent non-dues paying individuals.
Solution: ALEC through both Public Employee Freedom Act and Public Employee Choice Act allow public sector to choose their own representation in the workplace and allow unions to only represent those individuals in the workplace that pay dues.
Problem: Few employees—in both the private and public sector—have ever had the opportunity to vote for or against their union.
Most government employee unions finished their initial organizing drives after states gave government employees collective bargaining powers in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Because little union organizing activity has recently occurred in most states, the vast majority of unionized government workforces were organized decades ago. Few of today’s employees worked for the government then, meaning few of them had an opportunity to participate in choosing their workplace representation.
Solution: The ALEC Election Accountability for Municipal Employee Union Representatives Act requires that the state labor board regularly (three to five years) conduct an election to ensure that the representative of a collective bargaining unit that contains a general municipal employee accurately represents the choice of employees. ALEC’s Public Employee Bargaining Unit Decertification Act strengthens union transparency and accountability by lowering the number of petition signatures necessary to trigger a vote to determine who will represent the workplace.
Problem: Lack of transparency in public employee union negotiations, leaving taxpayers in the dark about how millions of taxpayer dollars are spent.
Solution: The ALEC Public Employee Bargaining Transparency Act opens public sector collective bargaining sessions and documents to the public. The ALEC Transparency and Accountability for Public Employee Bargaining Act requires that once a public employer and employees reach a collective bargaining agreement, the public employer shall post the agreement online for 14 days and hold a public hearing before the agreement can be ratified.
Problem: Union officials are paid with taxpayer dollars to conduct union business.
Solution: ALEC Prohibition on Paid Union Activity forbids the practice of paying a public employee a salary funded by taxpayers for the time spent in union recruiting and representation activities.
ALEC policy solutions work to ensure union employees have the freedom to choose their own workplace representation and strengthen public sector union accountability to both union members and taxpayers.