FACT-Government Union Reforms Empower Workers, Not Union Executives

This spring, the Louisiana legislature will consider several bills that are meant to empower government workers by protecting their free speech rights and their wallets. These reforms are overwhelmingly popular with taxpayers who are concerned with reducing corruption and restoring workers’ rights. However, union executives who benefit from the status quo are resorting to spreading myths about what these bills are designed to do. These myths are hyperbolic at best and at worst, harmful to hard-working government employees who wish to exercise control over their paychecks. Here’s the truth about how these bills protect both government workers and taxpayers.

MYTH: Proposed union reform bills take away people’s right to join a union.
FACT: Anyone who wishes to join a union remains free to do so.

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in the 2018 landmark decision Janus v. AFSCME that the First Amendment guarantees the right of a worker to pay-or not pay-a union. None of the proposed bills interfere with that right. Union executives seem concerned that a bill that would prohibit public employers from collecting dues payments from private organizations will cause them to lose members.

Government unions force public employers to do their bill collecting for them by deducting membership dues from paychecks. Unlike payroll deductions for employer- sponsored retirement plans or health insurance premiums, union membership dues benefit a private organization. There’s little daylight between a government employer deducting union dues and withholding money from your paycheck to make a monthly contribution to a political party, candidate, or cause. That’s because government unions like AFSCME, SEIU, NEA, and NFT spend more on political activities and lobbying than they spend on representing their members.

The truth is that in 2024, workers have several options to automate dues payments, including scheduling a monthly deduction on a credit or debit card or a bank draft. Government unions should have faith in their members to arrange for dues payments if they are providing a valuable service at a fair price. Do union executives fear their members will leave unless they can hold members hostage?

The Pelican Institute sent public records requests to Louisiana school boards and learned that union dues for teachers in Louisiana are approximately $50 per month. Organizations like Christian Educators and Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, which provide their members with benefits similar to those provided by unions like liability insurance, legal services, and continuing education charge dues of around $20 per month. Unfortunately, several collective bargaining agreements the Pelican Institute obtained through public records requests go to great lengths to prohibit competing organizations from advertising or recruiting in schools.

Worse, these collective bargaining agreements limit the time in which public employees can resign their membership to a narrow window each year. Failure to resign from the union within the specified drop window commits the employee to another year of membership and dues. A public employee who experiences a change in financial circumstances after the drop window, or who disagrees with the union’s political spending, or simply wants to resign is unable to do so under these agreements.

The Louisiana AFL-CIO posted on X (formerly Twitter) on March 19, 2024, that joining a union is a free choice people can make and that no one is required to join a union.[1] The Pelican Institute agrees! But why is it so difficult for some government employees to leave a union to do so? Workers who wish to leave unions should be free to do so at any time.

These bills restore workers’ rights by allowing individuals to make financial decisions that benefit their families, not union executives. Workers remain free to join a union, join a different organization, or refrain from joining any organization.

MYTH: Proposed legislation prevents union members from engaging in the political process.
FACT: The political process remains open to all. 

HB571 prohibits public employers from using taxpayer dollars to pay public employees to conduct union business. Opponents have falsely claimed that this bill prohibits government union members from participating in the political process altogether. This bill simply ends the practice of paid release time, or public employees doing union work instead of the job they are being paid with taxpayer dollars to do.

Release time is taxpayer funded lobbying. It benefits a private organization, not the public. The Pelican Institute obtained collective bargaining agreements from six Louisiana parishes with parish-wide collective bargaining agreements in place for teachers. Five of those agreements guarantee union members release time for purposes of lobbying elected officials without loss of pay or benefits. Teachers, who are public employees hired to educate children, are guaranteed paid time away from the classroom to conduct business for the benefit of a private union.

All voters and taxpayers who feel passionately about certain issues are free to email their representatives, engage with them on social media, or attend community forums. They’re also free to travel to a city council meeting or legislative hearing to give testimony about proposed legislation. However, government union members who are not employed by the union should not receive paid leave to conduct union business. They should take vacation or sick time, just like any other voter or taxpayer.

MYTH: Unionized government workers are paid more than their non-unionized counterparts.
FACT: Government union members are paid LESS than non-union workers when cost of living is considered.

Government unions point to states like Connecticut to support their claim that unionized government workers are paid more than in states with fewer government union members. What the unions fail to mention is that states with high government union membership typically have higher taxes and higher costs of living. When cost of living is considered, a Connecticut teacher earns about the same as a teacher in Iowa or Wyoming.

Louisiana taxpayers know that money doesn’t grow on trees, and elected officials responsible for budgeting know that increasing spending in one area almost certainly means cutting it someplace else. Money that could be spent on pay increases or employment benefits in states with government unions is diverted to administrative costs. Loudoun County, Virginia should serve as a cautionary tale. That school district provided $3.3 million to hire 13 new administrative staff to implement collective bargaining. That money could be spent instead on pay increases, or to help cover the district’s shortage of special education or speech pathology services to students.

Thanks to a study on the cost of government unions to state and local finances, we know that collective bargaining costs a Louisiana family of four approximately $3,000 per year. The authors estimated that state and local spending in 2014 would have been between $279 million and $591 million lower without collective bargaining. Notably, the study points out that the Louisiana legislature passed bills authorizing state agencies and local governments to collectively bargain with union leaders following a 1969 New Orleans teacher strike during which an “anarchy committee” slashed tires and set off explosives on school grounds.

These common sense reforms empower government workers by giving them more control of their paychecks. The people we trust to provide valuable public services should be given the same trust when it comes to their paychecks. The Pelican Institute is grateful to Sen. Alan Seabaugh and Representatives Emily Chenvert, Raymond Crews, and Roger Wilder, III, for their leadership.

[1] Louisiana AFL_CIO, TWITTER, (March 19, 2024), https://twitter.com/LA_AFLCIO/status/1770132934227316987