Government Unions Are Redefining People as State Workers

Published December 1, 2008

Politics, money, and power always make for good intrigue, and government labor unions involve all three. So notes The State of Labor 2008 report by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, which reviews the inherent costs involved in collective bargaining, collective bargaining expansion in key states, and potential solutions for rolling back the costly expansions.

The report shows public-sector labor unions are trying to use almost any government subsidy to a private business as a pretext for forcing unionization of those business owners and their workers as public employees.

“By redefining private workers as public employees, unions can increase in size, power, and influence, at the expense of taxpayers,” said Sonya Jones, director of labor policy for EFF and a principal writer of the report.

“The purpose of this year’s report is to raise awareness of the stranglehold unions have on state governments and the detrimental effect of those relationships to taxpayers,” Jones added.

Day Care, Foster Care, More

Targets include day-care providers, in-home health care workers, foster parents, and others. These private businesses and their workers in several states are being forced to join a union and pay dues or fees for representation services they did not ask for and may not want.

That is turning private-sector workers into de facto state employees, the report notes, potentially costing taxpayers billions of dollars. These expansions allow money from public sources to be funneled as dues to union middlemen, who then turn around and ask the public for more money, the report shows. Taxpayers are then on the hook for these increases in program costs and worker pay and benefits.

The hidden costs of collective bargaining often go unnoticed, the report notes.

Contributing writer Phil Maymin, a scholar with the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, debunks the rationale behind three common justifications for public-sector collective bargaining. Even unionized government workers will not ultimately benefit from collective bargaining, Maymin said.

Instead, Maymin believes “the only winners in public-sector bargaining are the public-sector bargainers” and concludes “the economic impact of public-sector bargaining is far too enormous to possibly justify.”

Washington State’s Costs Climb

The costs of bargaining have contributed to increases in state payroll and benefit expenditures in Washington state, the report notes. Between 2004 and 2007, spending on state salaries (excluding K-12 education) increased from $1.9 billion to $2.2 billion, in part because of changes in state law strengthening government worker collective bargaining. State spending on employee health benefits increased $100 million during the period.

During those same years, public-sector labor unions spent more than $1.1 million on direct campaign contributions to candidates for governor and the state legislature. These figures do not include “soft money” given to political party committees or spent on independent expenditures.

Democratic candidates received 81 percent of those contributions and responded by working with some Republicans to pass at least eight bills expanding collective bargaining rights.

The state’s legislators granted collective bargaining rights to family child-care providers, adult care homes, and graduate students at public universities. They also removed public access to collective bargaining negotiations between ferry worker unions and the state, allowed long-term care workers to bargain with the state for training money, attempted to grant bargaining to certain foster parents, and effectively ended protections against union use of member money for political purposes.

Colorado Euphemizes Bargaining

Ben DeGrow, a policy analyst at the Independence Institute in Colorado, has documented similar growth of public-sector collective bargaining in Colorado.

An executive order by Gov. Bill Ritter (D) does not use the term “collective bargaining.” Instead, it authorizes “employee partnerships” that, DeGrow concludes, “meet the classic definition of collective bargaining.”

In response, proponents of worker freedom have moved to place a right-to-work constitutional amendment on the state’s November ballot.

Open Bargaining

Jones believes the best way to prevent abuse and truly reform labor policy is to end compulsory unionism and ensure a free market in labor representation. The report suggests four actions legislators can take to curb the influence and expense of public-sector unions.

State legislators should apply open meetings laws to collective bargaining negotiations, ensure union workers have access to their unions’ financial statements, enact stiff regulations protecting the paychecks of workers from unwanted union political spending, and prohibit public employee strikes, the report recommends.

“Taxpayers and legislators need to start questioning the financial stranglehold the collective bargaining process has on public budgets. As governments spend more money on higher wages for more workers, there is less money available for states to operate, maintain current projects, and fix or repair failing infrastructure,” concluded Jones.

Since many of these options are not currently available to taxpayers, the only public influence is through registering approval or disapproval of such policies at the ballot box, Jones notes.


Scott Dilley ([email protected]) is a labor policy analyst at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Washington.

For more information …

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s The State of Labor 2008: