Union empowerment bill taken up by Vermont House committee

by Robert Maynard

A bill referred to as the “fair share” bill passed the Vermont Senate last month.  If there was a truth in advertising requirement for naming bills, this one would be called the “union empowerment” bill.  That bill is now being taken up by the Vermont House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs, as covered by this WCAX article.  Here is how they explain it: “Tuesday, the Vermont House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs began work on the first bill passed by the Senate this session. S.14 would require union nonmembers to pay a large percentage of regular dues when covered by a bargaining unit.”  True North covered this bill when it passed the Vermont Senate last month.  Here is how we described the case against the bill:

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.