by Robert Maynard
With the passage of the so-called “fair share” bill in the Vermont Senate, the Vermont National Education Association was crowing about their victory and mobilizing supporters for the next step:
Earlier today, the Vermont Senate overwhelmingly passed the fair share fee bill. This measure – S. 14 – would mean that everyone who benefits from the work of you and your union has to pay for those services. You negotiate better wages, benefits and working conditions on behalf of everyone who works in your bargaining unit, regardless of whether they are members or not. Your union also must represent nonmembers in grievances, even though they don’t pay for the services. In essence, you and your brothers and sisters cover those costs in your dues.
As reported in Vermont Digger, the debate is already underway in the Vermont House and not all members are sold on compulsory union fees:
Former Rep. Oliver Olsen, R-Jamaica, who opposed the bill last year, said, “In really simple terms, I don’t think anyone should be forced to pay union dues. I don’t think anyone should be forced to pay into a union they don’t want to be members of.”
As for employees receiving benefits and representation for free, Olsen replied, “Unfortunately, they aren’t given a choice; they’re forced into being represented.”
“If the union doesn’t want to represent these people and doesn’t want to provide these services that they’re required to provide, a better approach would be to see how we could absolve the union of any obligation to provide these services,” he added.
“That way, both the union and the employee who doesn’t want to be part of the union, both become winners. I’d encourage folks on both sides of the issue to look at that alternative,” he said.
Olsen added that he believed many of the non-union members were lower-paid part-time employees, with an agency fee disproportionately affecting their take-home income.
The possibility that these non-union members might be lower paid part-time employees is an intriguing prospect given the talking points listed on the Vermont NEA website provided for supporters of a similar bill: “Supporting S.137 will mean that you are supporting some of Vermont’s lowest paid school employees and their ability to meet their basic needs.” How on earth can you claim to be “supporting some of Vermont’s lowest paid school employees and their ability to meet their basic needs” by supporting a bill that forces them to pay fees to the union? Whatever one things of the free rider argument, it is extremely disingenuous to argue that support for such a bill is helping these low paid employees to meet their basic needs. Such ridiculous, over the top rhetoric leads one to question the whole argument.
First there is the free rider argument, which has some truth to it. The question is whether the answer is the forced union fees that are being pushed by the Vermont NEA and the Vermont State Employees Association. As Rep. Olsen pointed out, there are other ways to address this issue. If we are talking about “some of Vermont’s lowest paid school employees,” as both the Vermont NEA and Rep. Olsen are arguing, the benefits they are getting are not all that high.
One would suspect that the real purpose behind this bill is not fairness, but public employees’ union empowerment. It is not like they need any further empowerment. The Vermont NEA is one of the most powerful political forces in the state. In the tax year ending August 2011 their IRS 990 form shows that they took in an amount in excess of $4.6 million, so they are hardly impoverished. Most of the employees on their payroll, who worked at least 40 hours per week, were paid in excess of $120,000 per year. So, in the name of “fairness”, we are being asked to support a bill mandating that “some of Vermont’s lowest paid school employees” pay fees to a union bringing in almost $5 million a year staffed by people making over $120,000 a year. This sounds more like a farcical travesty of justice.