By Gregg Keller
Missouri legislators have brought their A-game to Jefferson City over the last two sessions to heal and grow our state’s economy after eight years of a do-nothing Democrat governor. During that time one of the most significant reforms to pass the House and Senate grappled with historically unaccountable government union bosses.
Senate Bill 602, sponsored by Senator Bob Onder, and House Bill 1577, sponsored by Rep. John Wiemann provided a new level of transparency and accountability for government unions that only a few states have succeeded in enacting. Considering the positive impact similar measures have had in Wisconsin, a leading state in union reform, it is safe to say Missouri’s taxpayers and government workers are big winners under the new law.
The new Government Union Accountability Act will go a long way to restoring workplace democracy for government union workers in Missouri. Along with implementing paycheck protection, which requires annual authorization for paycheck deductions, the reforms included in the new law will give workers a voice in union elections by requiring unions to recertify every three years, increase public access to collective bargaining, end government union financial secrecy, and establish clear labor agreement time limits and terms.
Government unions are in the unique position of not only having the ability to negotiate with public bodies, but also have the power through their political activity to influence who is elected and, ultimately, with whom they bargain. Too often, government unions use their power to influence government leaders and policy for their own benefit and not in their members’ best interests.
The Government Union Accountability Act will shift power from union leaders back to union members. In doing so, government union leaders will have to work to earn the support of their members and prove the value of membership in their union. If unions do not adequately represent their members, members will have the opportunity, through regular recertification elections, to hold their union accountable. Government unions can no longer ignore members by supporting policies and politicians their members do not support.
Government unions negotiate with taxpayer dollars and, under the new law, taxpayers will also be able to hold unions accountable. The public will now have access to government union finances, just as we already have access to the financial information of private sector unions, as well as increased access to the collective bargaining process. The law also includes clear time limits on labor agreements which will protect taxpayers from having to fund unsustainable agreements with government unions.
While we believe Missouri still needs to join the ranks of worker freedom states and enact Right to Work to protect workers in the private sector, the new public sector union reforms have the potential to positively impact our state even more so than Right to Work. Even though overall union membership rates have declined in recent years, the rate of government union membership remains five times greater than the rate of union membership in the private sector. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows an increasing percentage of all Missouri union members are government employees.
Wisconsin was the first state to implement comprehensive government union reform. The Wisconsin-based MacIver Institute reports that Act 10, the reform law signed by Governor Scott Walker in 2011, has saved the state of Wisconsin over $5 billion since it was enacted.
Since 2010, union membership in Wisconsin has decreased over 38%. Given the choice, over 125,000 workers left their unions. Despite declining public sector union membership, and contrary to claims by unions, the MacIver Institute found that Wisconsin has not seen a mass exodus by public sector employees. In fact, the Institute notes there has been an increase in state workers over the last few years.
Wisconsin became a Right to Work state in 2015, giving workers in the private sector the ability to choose whether to join and support a union without fear of losing their jobs. While union membership in the private sector dropped after enactment of the law, it has not seen the same continuing decline as in the public sector following Act 10 according to a report from the Maclver Institute.
Missouri’s Government Union Accountability Act is a key piece in overall union reform. Though it became effective at the end of August, ensuring the law is implemented properly and educating workers and taxpayers of their rights remains a priority.
The Missouri legislature should also consider expanding government union reform to include first responders and health professionals to ensure they have the same rights as other government union members. It’s unfair to those on the front lines to protect our safety and health to be denied the right to vote for their union representation on a regular basis. The transparency and accountability requirements included in Missouri’s new reform law should be applied to all public sector unions in Missouri.
States like Wisconsin show that government union reform does not only affect state budgets, but can have a real impact on workers and their ability to hold their union accountable.
Gregg Keller is widely regarded as one of the preeminent public affairs professionals in the country. Before founding Atlas Strategy Group, Keller helped lead two national public policy organizations, directed a national coalitions program for a presidential campaign and managed a nationally-watched U.S. Senate campaign.
Keller chose The NRA Foundation to receive a donation on behalf of his writing this editorial.