Beware the squeegee men, South Dakota


Before Rudolph Giuliani was elected mayor of New York City, the Big Apple was overrun with squeegee men.
These panhandlers would come with dirty rags and try to wash the windows of cars stopped at red lights, without permission. Usually their so-called cleaning left the cars dirtier than they were to begin with. Still, the squeegee men demanded payment and would stand in front of the cars they'd just dirtied until they got their money. After all, they'd done the work, hadn't they? And if you wanted them to move, you'd better cough it up.
What the squeegee men did wasn't legal, but it was mostly tolerated until a new mayor was elected who wouldn't stand for it anymore. But imagine for a moment a world in which the squeegee men were able to legally demand payment and there wasn't one thing you could do about it. If you called the cops, they'd just make you pay.
That principle, really, is what's at stake with South Dakota's Initiated Measure 23 that voters will decide this November. The cryptic measure simply says that "an organization, corporate or non-profit, has a right to charge a fee by any service provided by the organization."
If you wonder what that means, join the club. The South Dakota Chamber of Commerce released a short paper on it, saying (pdf), "Don't understand? Can't figure out what this means? Don't worry, the most common reaction that people express after reading this is, 'What the hell does that mean?'"
To get a better grasp on it, remember the squeegee men. South Dakota law currently allows corporate organizations and non-profits to charge fees for services that people actually want and consent to. This union-backed measure would remove the consent part.
Why? It's all part of a broad attempt by organized labor this year to overturn right-to-work laws. They've filed suit in several states and now worked to put this vague initiative on the ballot — so vague in fact that, experts caution, it could lead to years of litigation.
In right-to-work states such as South Dakota, unions representing a shop cannot force workers to pay them as a condition of employment. Most workers voluntarily pay the unions anyway, but some don't. The unions want to force workers to cough up the money, whether or not workers want unions representing them or are happy with how they're being represented.
Unions allege that non-dues paying workers are "free riders," but that's not quite right. They're really forced riders under current law. While workers cannot be forced to join or pay dues to a union in right-to-work states, in unionized workplaces they must still accept representation provided by the union, which is the sole collective bargainer with the employer.
Unions argue it's unfair that they should do the work of negotiating and not get paid. They have about a quarter of a point, but their remedy to go full squeegee man is even more unfair.
Forget for a second that unions pushed for the current laws that give them a monopoly on bargaining in unionized shops. It may not be ideal that unions should have to negotiate for workers and not get paid for it. It is incredibly unfair to workers to not be given a choice in the matter.
Here's a better solution. South Dakota could pass a worker's choice reform that several states are considering for state government workers and push for it at the federal level for private-sector workers.
Worker's choice says if a worker wants to be represented by a union and pay the union for that representation, great. And if he or she would rather keep the money and negotiate directly with the employer, that's OK too.
After all, somebody's got to clean that windshield.
F. Vincent Vernuccio is the director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Jeremy Lott is an adjunct scholar at the Center.

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