Democracy and transparency should not be sacrificed
By F. Vincent Vernuccio
Thursday, April 27, 2017
It’s been over two months since the Missouri House supported giving more rights and protections to government employees by passing House Bill 251, the Government Union Reform Act. The Senate was expected to pass an amended bill in early March, but a small number of Democrats halted progress and delayed the much-needed reform, a move that could have been stopped by Republican leadership.
Now, there are discussions of a troublesome deal with those Democrats: If lawmakers agree to enact just one reform — establishing something called paycheck protection that would require government unions get employees’ permission before taking money from their paychecks — Republican lawmakers could sacrifice more meaningful and important provisions of the bill that would expand union members’ rights to democracy and transparency, and protect taxpayers.
Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, is a leading proponent of the full bill, explaining “Some would say a measure called paycheck protection is just as good as government union reform. I don’t think so.”
He’s right. While giving employees more control over how they pay dues is a good and noble goal, its impact would be minor compared to other benefits workers would experience with passage of the complete bill.
The amended version of HB 251 would grant government employees the right to re-elect their union every two years. It would also give them the same access to information about union finances that their brothers and sisters in private sector unions already enjoy. Finally, it would protect taxpayers by ensuring public money isn’t used to pay employees to do union work.
The vast majority of unionized workers have never had a say in which union represents them in the workplace. They simply started their job and were handed a union card. These employees should have the right to re-elect their union, choose a new one or stop union representation entirely. HB 251 protects democracy by finally giving them that basic right.
HB 251 would give government union members the right to see how their union is spending the hard-earned dues they and their co-workers pay. Private-sector union members already enjoy this information. Isn’t it only fair public employees have the same opportunity?
Finally, HB 251 would end the practice of “release time,” which forces taxpayers to subsidize union work by allowing a public employee to do union work while on the clock and receiving a taxpayer-funded salary. The current version of the bill would allow these employees to still do union work but would require them to use vacation time or unpaid time off, or allow the union to pay for their time.
Patrick Ishmael of St. Louis’ Show-Me Institute recently wrote in Forbes, “For Missouri, 2016’s state elections were doubly significant. Not only did Missourians return supermajorities of Republicans to both the state House and state Senate; they also installed a Republican governor — taking away the last true impediment to significant legislative reform for conservative policymakers.”
Paycheck protection was one of the top items on the agenda for labor reform during in 2016. Because of the need to override former Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto, it was the best that could be hoped for. Senate leadership’s dedication to keeping a promise shows why voters are keeping them in power.
But, as Ishmael points out, voters were loud and clear on Election Day 2016: They want more. Legislators started the year off in the right direction by passing right-to-work, but that reform should be a starting point, not a finish line. Lawmakers should not forget the wishes of the voters who supported real change and reform in Jefferson City, not business as usual.
2017 is a new year with a new governor. Voters sent a supermajority of Republicans to Jefferson City and elected Gov. Eric Greitens for a reason. The Senate must stand firm and its leadership should not hand the reins over to a handful of Democrats who wish to halt reforms that would help the taxpayers and hardworking public employees of the Show-Me State.
F. Vincent Vernuccio is director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center of Public Policy, a Michigan-based research and educational institute.
This is an amended version of the original article.