By Ben Velderman
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Labor unions claim to represent the best interests of the “little guy,” but they’re among the least democratic institutions in the country.
James Sherk of National Review Online points out that while all of America’s political representatives stand before voters in elections every few years, labor unions are exempt from such democratic oversight.
“Employees vote on union representation only once. After a union wins it remains certified indefinitely,” Sherk writes. “It never has to stand for reelection. Workers can petition for a decertification election, but legal obstacles make this prohibitively difficult.
“New hires do not get asked if they want union representation. They must accept it as a condition of employment, inheriting the representatives that previous employees voted for,” he writes.
For example, every New York City public school teacher who voted to join the United Federation of Teachers in 1961 has since retired. Their successors are forced into joining the UFT whether they want to or not.
Not only is such a system grossly unfair to the next generation of employees who may have different views and values from their predecessors, but it insulates union bosses from the concerns and priorities of the rank-and-file members, Sherk argues.
For example, labor leaders keep funneling union money toward their pet causes and candidates, even though polls show that most rank-and-file members don’t want their dues spent on political campaigns. Union members can mutter and complain all they want, but labor bosses have the final say.
“This also explains union officers’ inflated salaries,” Sherk writes. “How often would members of Congress vote against raising their own pay if they never had to stand for reelection?”
So what’s the solution?
“Union members should get to decide whether they still want union representation,” Sherk writes. “At a bare minimum, Congress and state legislatures should require government and private-sector unions to regularly run for reelection, as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s reforms required.”
Sherk’s right – Wisconsin has effectively solved this problem. Since the Badger State has begun requiring public sector unions to recertify every year, a remarkable thing has occurred: No employee is forced into joining a union, which is forcing labor unions to finally listen to their members.
The Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, recently completed a series of “listening sessions” throughout the state to solicit recommendations from union members and staff on the direction of the organization.
The union is doing this because teachers are no longer being strong-armed into the union, and WEAC’s membership is rapidly dwindling. WEAC leaders know the union must become much more responsive to its members, or it will shrivel up and blow away altogether.
That’s what injecting a little democracy into labor unions will do.
And that’s why the union slogan “solidarity forever” should be viewed more as a threat than a promise.
Unions have become immune to the will of their members
September 4, 2012
By Ben Velderman