Government employees in Seattle do not exactly fit the profile of the average Republican voter. But As the Washington Examiner's Sean Higgins reported this week, they aren't suckers either.
Thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision on public sector union membership, many members of Local 925 of the Service Employees International Union — those who had not explicitly signed up to join the union — suddenly found that dues were no longer being taken directly out of their paycheck. As a result, 38 percent of the local's membership was gone overnight.
This has happened repeatedly. After Wisconsin forbade unions from siphoning dues directly from government workers' paychecks by default, roughly one-third of the state's unionized public-sector workforce dropped out of a union. In Michigan, more than 10 percent of Michigan teachers who were eligible to quit their union under right-to-work did so in its first two years, despite dogged efforts by the union to make it nearly impossible to quit.
This will happen again, every time and everywhere government workers are given a choice.
According to the Department of Labor, there are already more than 700,000 government workers at the federal, state and local levels who have explicitly chosen not to join a union, yet are forced to accept and in many states must also pay for union representation. If the examples above are any indication, many more of the remaining 7.2 million government workers who actually belong to unions would drop their membership immediately if the option were available and accessible.
Government workers are protected by civil service laws. They are typically better compensated than their private sector counterparts. In those senses, they have less to lose from the decline of unionism than most private-sector workers do.
What's more, it is important to put the relative health of unionism within government in its proper context. Yes, 36 percent of government workers are union members, compared to just 6.6 percent of private-sector workers. But this is not so much a function of the suitability of unions to government work as it is of government's unique and monopolistic characteristics. Governments face no pressure to survive. They seldom reduce their workforces. They never go out of business. They cannot simply relocate offshore or to a right-to-work state. These are all major contributors to the decline of private-sector unionism, and in many cases they have occurred as a direct result of private-sector union demands.
Currently, unions are scrambling to avoid armageddon. They are trying, in any state that will let them to force more and more people — even those who do not qualify as government employees — to pay them monthly. They are making it as hard as possible to quit the union, and are possibly keeping members in the dark about the procedure for doing so.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt — again, no conservative stalwart — famously opposed public-sector unionism, which was not widespread before 1960. This relatively recent innovation has proven a failure in the decades since it began. It is a force that buoys tax rates, makes voters less powerful, increases government spending, and brings states and municipalities to the brink of insolvency.
Fortunately, its effects can probably be mitigated by letting the market work. If the states or the courts start giving workers their own choice on the matter, public-sector unionism will disappear, and the public will not miss it.