The recently inaugurated Republican governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, has signed an executive order banning public-employee unions from collecting fair-share contributions from those employees who choose not to belong to the unions that represent them.
I very recently did a post on the very skewed logic behind “right to work” legislation—see https://academeblog.org/2015/02/07/right-to-work-provides-workers-with-many-rights/
Rauner, previously the CEO of a private-equity firm, would like to see Illinois become a “right to work” state and has advocated that local communities pass right-to-work ordinances that apply all public and private unions since the Democratic control of both houses of the legislature makes the passage of such legislation seemingly impossible on a statewide level.
Rauner has presented three main arguments for imposition of “right to work,” all of which have become as commonplace as they are misleading.
The first of Rauner’s arguments is that workers should not have to be represented by unions to which they do not belong. What Rauner has conveniently left unsaid is that those workers still benefit from contracts negotiated by the unions, those unions still must represent the workers even though they are not paying dues, and those workers can even sue the unions, to which they have chosen not to belong, for inadequate representation.
The second of Rauner’s arguments is that workers should not have to pay dues to unions that are then making contributions in support of political parties, political candidates, or political causes that the individual worker may not support. What Rauner has conveniently left unsaid is that, in most pro-labor states, those workers who pay fair-share pay reduced dues, covering the approximate costs incurred in collective bargaining or in directly representing members, or those workers may have the option to declare themselves to be “objectors, in which case they pay dues that are annually adjusted to reflect formal audits that identify the percentage of the union’s expenditures that is “chargeable,” or directly related to collective bargaining or in directly representing members. So, it is very unlikely that much, if any, dues paid by those who pay fair share or who declare as objectors is actually going to any political contributions.
Moreover, it is very telling, not to mention hypocritical, that Rauner does not seem to have any problem with corporate donations in support of political parties, political candidates, or political causes—even though those donations are made without allowing any stockholders a mechanism for opting out. The retort from Rauner would almost certainly be that stockholders can always sell their stock in one company and buy stock in another company. And my response to that would be that an employee who does not wish to work in a “union shop,” a place where workers have democratically voted to unionize, can always quit that job and find another place to work. Certainly in the private sector, it would be much easier for a conservative worker to find a non-unionized workplace than for a stockholder to find a corporation whose political contributions have gone almost entirely to progressive candidates and causes. Indeed, even in the public sector, two out of three workers are not represented by unions.
It is extremely ironic, but actually quite consistent ideologically, that the corporate proponents of “right to work” who express such concern about individual workers being forced to pay dues to a union that is legally required to represent them are also the corporate proponents of scaling back the mechanisms for workers to seek redress if they are summarily fired without any due cause.
The third of Rauner’s arguments is that unionized public employees represent an inherent conflict of interest because they are negotiating contracts with offices holders to whose campaigns they have contributed. What an odd, not to mention hypocritical, argument for a Republican to be making in this Citizens United era, when corporations are allowed to make unlimited contributions to office holders who are bent on privatizing public services and public education and who are with one hand taking contributions and with the other hand taking bids from the corporations who are increasingly vying to run our prisons, our schools, and our economic development offices.
Rauner is correct that most unions have supported Democratic candidates and progressive causes. But that is not because the unions are inherently corrupt. It is, instead, because the Republicans have been very openly and aggressively anti-union. Any union leader who would advocate supporting a Republican in this current environment would either be a complete idiot or an absolute idiot.
Nonetheless, the sad truth is that Democratic politicians have often been not much more supportive of unions than Republicans have been. Witness Rahm Emanuel’s attacks on the teacher’s union in Chicago and Arne Duncan’s constant denigration of unionized public school teachers.
Worse, even in strongly Democratic states such as Illinois, Democrats have developed a knack for running candidates who are simply not very electable. Pat Quinn, who lost to Rauner, never escaped the shadow of Rob Blagojevitch’s corruption. As his state responded to the Great Recession and budget deficits that were often linked pointedly to deficits in the public pension systems, which were largely the result of state’s mismanagement of the pension funds, Quinn became one of the most unpopular governors in America. After he was appointed to replace Blagojevitch, he won re-election in 2010 with about 46.5% of the vote, then received about 46.5% of the vote in losing to Rauner in 2014. He carried the Democratic stronghold of Cook County, but nowhere else: that is, he never expanded his base of political support beyond any Democrat’s almost automatic base of support. He would have been the worst Democratic gubernatorial candidate anywhere in America in 2014 if not for Ed Fitzgerald in Ohio, who could not even carry Cuyahoga County, his home county which includes much of Cleveland—never mind Lucas, Franklin, Montgomery, or Hamilton counties, where Toledo, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati are located.
Still, despite Quinn’s almost singular lack of popularity, Rauner won with only 50.27% of the vote—hardly what anyone would describe as a mandate for his radical Far-Right and anti-worker agenda.