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.
— Working Kansans (@workingkansans) January 22, 2013
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.
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: