Kansas public employee unions overreact

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA)

Response to a bill being considered in the Kansas Legislature has triggered strong reaction from public employee unions. Kansas taxpayers should take notice of this extraordinary hyperbole, and hope legislators can enact this legislation for the good of Kansas.

The legislation is HB 2023. The fiscal note for the bill summarizes it as follows: “HB 2023 relates to professional employees’ organizations (PEOs). The bill makes it unlawful for any PEO to use any dues, fees, assessments or any period payment deducted from a member’s paycheck for the purpose of engaging in political activities. If a member wishes to donate money for political activity by the PEO, a specific donation must be made to a separate fund so designated. The bill defines political activity for the purpose of enforcement of its provisions. The bill amends the Public Employer-Employee Relations Act (PEERA) to make it unlawful for a public employee organization to spend any of its income to engage in public activities.”

The meaning is that if teachers unions want to fund political activity, their members must make contributions specifically for that purpose. Presently these contributions are automatically deducted from members’ paychecks. If these organizations want to engage in political activity, they may still do so, as is their right. They’ll simply have to raise the funds differently.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Eminently reasonable, to most people.

That is, unless you represent the unions this law would affect. In that case, you brand this as “paycheck deception,” as does the Kansas Democratic Party.

Or, you might say this bill is an “attack on the free speech rights of working Kansans.”

Or: “Republican legislators seek to limit fundamental constitutional rights.”

The group Working Kansans Alliance makes these claims. Really.

Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union weighed in on this issue, too. Its email to its members was headlined “Legislature seeks legislation to silence teachers.”

The first paragraph ratchets up the rhetoric: “We’ve been expecting something and here it comes — the first official salvo in a possible war on teachers.”

The next day KNEA reported on the testimony of David Schauner, the union’s general counsel:

Schauner began his testimony by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we remain silent about the things that matter”.

He went on to explain why this bill is such an onerous idea:

“Participation in the political process is a thing that matters. The right to act collectively matters, the expression of dissenting political points of view matters. It matters that we as a democracy have decided that our political dissent is the bedrock of our continued success as a nation. When those in power decide to punish those who have publically [sic] disagreed then we are lost as a democracy. It matters that the right to act in concert with those who hold shared values. It matters that the nation’s founding fathers demanded the first and fifth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It matters that those who teach our children participate in politics. It matters that all citizens be treated equally in the eyes of the law.”

I wonder: If the existence of the unions is dependent upon automatic paycheck deductions, how valuable are they to members?

How public employee unions are different

Public employee unions contribute to political campaigns. They then sit across the bargaining table from those officeholders they elected (or their representatives). Is there a conflict of interest here? Absolutely there is.

Who is going to prevail in these negotiations? Who represents the public?

The big difference between public employee unions and other unions is the discipline that markets impose on private sector companies. Government doesn’t face this powerful force.

If private business firm X is overly generous to its workers in terms of pay and benefits, it will probably suffer in performance compared to its stingy competitor firm Y. Firm X may go out of business.

(If firm X is General Motors or Chrysler, however, the federal government will perform a bailout at the expense of everyone but unions. This is a good reason why government should not intervene in matters like this.)

An alternative, of course, is that firm X — by being generous in pay — becomes more efficient and competitive in the market. Firm Y workers then benefit, by either going to work for X, or Y realizing that it needs to pay workers like X does.

These scenarios require market competition to work. Without that, it’s a one-sided game, and the taxpaying public loses.

Here’s some excerpts from today’s Joseph Ashby Show on this topic:


3 thoughts on “Kansas public employee unions overreact”

  1. I have a problem with a couple of things. The Kansas Legislature is the one who speaks for the citizens of Kansas. So when the two sides sit across the bargaining table both are represented,, without the conflict of interest they would not try to resolve the conflict, most often it is not about money. Yet money is a big problem with a Kansas Legislature that uses smoke and mirrors to fund the Retirement Program,,, a program Legislators have written themselves into. In the private sector would you call that a corporate raid when the owner of the company sets better retirement standards for himself than he does for the worker?? Without a Workers Union no one speaks for employees the union represents. The market affect does not apply to Government because it is Not part of the Market Place, it is a completely different animal and very authoritative in nature and the Union helps
    the individual State Employee.

  2. I consider myself a libertarian and I agree with the majority of your post. However, I think this bill could have been better. Eliminating payroll deduction without consent is pro-liberty and the right position to take, I believe. But, for those who have consented to contribute and simply want the same ease as with making a 401(k) contribution, allowing payroll deduction helps the individual.

    Otherwise, I agree with the inherent conflict of public sector unions, and their ability to bargain with people they elect. However, limiting political speech is a dangerous thing for a government to do. As long as union membership is not compulsory by law (and employees are free to not contribute), then an employee who is not represented by union political views doesn’t have to fund the union political speech.

    The libertarian view on unions and Right-to-Work has been somewhat ambiguous. I think the balance of power to the individual is clearly greater in Right-to-Work states. But union squashing is a Republican practice, not a libertarian practice. As long as Kansas is Right to Work, then unions will only succeed if they offer workers something substantial other than political rhetoric. And so the individuals are the ones who decide the fate of unions, not elected leaders.

    Here’s a great article on the big picture here: http://reason.com/blog/2012/12/17/right-to-work-laws-are-indeed-libertaria

  3. The article leaves out a lot of important pieces of HB 2023 (deliberately, I presume…). The “paycheck protection” nonsense is just a smokescreen.
    The bill prohibits use of ANY union dues money for “political activity”, and broadens the definition of such activity far beyond its current definition of direct support of candidates. HB 2023 includes ANY support/opposition of ANY political issues AND issues “of an ideological nature”. Since union staff and elected leadership are paid with dues money; all these people are muzzled entirely on just about any issue they might wish to speak to. The union president could not, for example, even publish an editorial about school funding in the union members’ newsletter. HB 2023 doesn’t stop there. It actually expressly FORBIDS public employee unions from endorsing political candidates. So yeah, this IS a big deal…as in TOTAL VIOLATION OF FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS size deal. Want to know who the Fraternal Order of Police supports for Attorney General? Too bad, because HB 2023 makes it illegal for them to tell you.

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