Readers might have noticed a buzz around the conservative media, recently, about the Supreme Court’s hearing the case Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association. The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has republished a background brief from the Mackinac Center on the case with a couple of local hooks.
One is a case of non-union reserve police in Westerly, about which Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights Chairman Giovanni Cicione has an op-ed in today’s Providence Journal:
Individual liberty in the workplace seems, amazingly, to be a hot topic these days. Here in Rhode Island, the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights is litigating a case to defend nonunion reserve police officers in Westerly from being forced to contribute $5 of their $35 hourly pay to the local union (and yes, you read that right — almost 15 percent of their paycheck!). This was foisted on them without their consent, and these good public servants, many of whom are part-timers and retirees, are being forced to subsidize an organization they do not support and from which they receive no benefits.
Much of Friedrichs has to do with “agency fees,” which the labor unions like to call “fair share fees” for propaganda reasons. The idea is that the union negotiates salaries and benefits for all workers, regardless of membership, so non-members should have to pay for that service. In practice, this fee is often the same as full union dues.
In fact, as the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s brief notes, Rhode Island is one of just three states that requires by law that state employees pay such a “service charge,” and that it be the same as dues. (In all other cases, the fees/charges, are left to each contract negotiation, so in theory a critical mass of non-union employees could demand that their employers remove the fee.) As familiar as it is, I still find it disconcerting how common it is, when looking into issues of labor, regulation, taxes, and so on, to find Rhode Island not only on the more-burdensome, more-graft-producing side, but also taking that side to its extreme.
The Westerly case shows that these fees aren’t really for services rendered. The unions aren’t so much negotiating employees salaries as they are negotiating their cut of payroll.