The Raison D’Être of Government Labor Unions


Ocean State Current alumnus Kevin Mooney takes a look at the government union landscape a year after the Janus ruling:

One year after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Janus case, supporters have good reason to be concerned about “anti-Janus” legislation at the state level, the Mackinac Center’s [Vinnie] Vernuccio said.

But, Vernuccio said, right-to-work advocates also have good reason to be encouraged about the long-term prospects for employee freedom because the ruling explicitly says government employees should be permitted to “opt in” and offer “affirmative consent” before union dues or fees are deducted from their paychecks, rather than having to “jump through hoops” to opt out.

“A critical part of the Janus ruling says that everything the union does is political,” Vernuccio told The Daily Signal. “That’s why the ‘opt in’ question is so important, and I think it’s the next major battle.”

The political nature of government labor unions is implicit in the fact that their direct job when securing benefits for their members is influencing the actions of elected officials, but that’s not all.  The political nature of unions also appears in their activities on matters wholly unrelated to their ostensible purpose.  Here’s Alexandra DeSanctis, writing on National Review Online:

Over the weekend, the National Education Association adopted a new “business item” declaring its support for “the fundamental right to abortion under Roe v. Wade.” The NEA is the most influential teachers’ union in the United States, and with more than three million members is also the nation’s largest labor union of any kind. …

The statement outlining Business Item 56 doesn’t even make an attempt to articulate why the NEA has a stake in the abortion debate at all. It merely takes for granted that, as an influential left-wing organization, the group must necessarily champion the entire progressive agenda. This is a growing tendency on the Left, as “intersectional” thinking takes hold — the idea that each interest group within the broader progressive movement has a responsibility to embrace and advocate the particular interests of the rest.

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It varies from local to local and union to union, and depends on the culture of particular occupations, but very often one gets the impression that the unions see as their reason for being the advancement of left-wing politics.  Member services is just the means by which they collect revenue and gain influence.  Back to Kevin Mooney’s article:

“It is telling that the [California Teacher Association’s] response to teachers wanting to leave the union is not to reconsider the policies and activities that made the teachers want to leave in the first place,” Karen Sweigart, a lawyer with Freedom Foundation, said in an email to The Daily Signal about the California Teachers Association. “Instead, the CTA is content to further alienate teachers by continuing to take money from nonmembers against their will.”

One can think of this in terms of the abysmal news out of Providence schools and the legislation that arguably allowed disruptive behavior to spin out of control there.  Where were the unions protecting the workplace environments of their members?  Why aren’t they defending teachers against the implicit accusation that they’re racist and can’t apply subjective discipline?

Well, identity politics and promoting the message of systemic racism are key to the progressive program, and that takes precedence.


Featured image: A union protester in costume at an East Greenwich Town Council meeting in July 2017.

  • Joe Smith

    wholly unrelated to their ostensible purpose.

    NEA membership is skewed female I’m guessing – don’t have the NEA percentages but according to NCES (Federal DOE database) 77% of all K-12 public teachers are female so I’m guessing union membership is something similar. Hence, you could make an argument supporting issues – even tangentially related (abortion legal means abortion coverage as part of union contract health benefits) – aligned with its majority members’ larger concerns.

    and before you go “stretch”’s from New York Times (Jul 2010) –

    “The N.R.A., long a powerful lobby on gun rights issues, has in recent months also weighed in on such varied issues as health care, campaign finance, credit card regulations and Supreme Court nominees.”

    SCOTUS is an easy one to say of course the NRA has an interest related to its core 2A support, but health care (no discriminating premiums based on gun ownership), campaign finance (of course, keep NRA political influence), credit card (hmm..until you note the NRA saw a chance to tag a pro gun feature into the legislation).

    as noted also in the article – “What you’re seeing is a recognition that support for the Second Amendment is not only a very powerful voting bloc, but a very powerful political force.” Chris W. Cox, the N.R.A.’s chief lobbyist, said in an interview last week at the group’s Washington office, a few blocks from the Capitol.”

    and let’s think about the strategic perspective from say the teacher’s union..sure you could think “hmm, let’s offer more benefits, blah blah blah to demonstrate our value of membership”.. or you could think “let’s show our political muscle – evergreen bill, firefighter OT, the “not a COLA but a pension payment if you don’t get a COLA bill, etc. – so our members see our power.

    What would you do if you were a union leader? Be careful what you wish for when you use the courts to push an agenda without laying the foundation for the “what happens next”. Same thing happened to the abortion folks after Roe V. Wade..

    I’d say the unions are doing exactly what makes sense, especially since Janus just stated what was known – that public sector unions are political entities, not just a “member services” organization. Heck, even the AAA lobbies and one could argue the state gives them a “quasi” competitive advantage by being the only non-DMV alternative to perform certain state requirements.

  • D. S. Crockett

    The two entities, the public sector unions and the political Left, are natural allies, and the mortal enemies of the citizenry. Notwithstanding this ruling, it will be difficult to break their power. Per example, they booted Scott Walker in Wisconsin after two-terms and are now working on the Republican-controlled legislature. The usual leftish political tactics, shaming, physical threats, political pressure and rule roadblocks makes it difficult for union membership to opt-out. Bankruptcy may curve their power but it will do so only temporarily unless public sector unions go the way the dinosaurs.