Louisiana earns strong rating for protecting taxpayer interests from union favors

Policymakers who are ambitious to fight back against union power could benefit from a new tool that ranks each state in terms of how much political clout is exerted by organized labor at taxpayer expense.

In August, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), in partnership with Crossroads GPS, launched the Big Labor vs. Taxpayers Index, which contrasts each state on the basis of specific criteria used to measure the influence of government unions. The index is available at CEI’s WorkplaceChoice.org site.

“We would like to see this used as collaborative tool so state level think tanks, elected officials and average citizens can compare the policies with those of neighboring states and states from across the country,” said Vincent Vernuccio, CEI’s labor policy council said. “We would like  for someone from a heavily unionized area like New Jersey to be able to look at Louisiana, for instance, and get a better idea of what is not working for them.”

The index is built around an analysis of 1,150 labor laws and regulations, which are then broken into several categories including: collective bargaining, paycheck protection laws, secret ballot protections and card check, binding arbitration, open meetings laws, government union density, public employee pension underfunding, project labor agreements and strike policy for government employees. The full index and categories are all available on the CEI site.

“For too long, government unions have driven up spending and debt to maximize their power at taxpayers’ expense,” Crossroads GPS President Steven Law observed. “Now a new generation of governors is taking on the government labor leviathan, and we want to equip citizens to join that fight.”

The top five states listed as being the most friendly toward taxpayer interests are: 1) Tennessee 2) Utah 3) Idaho 4) Texas 5) Florida. The top five most unionized states are 1) Pennsylvania 2) Connecticut 3) Illinois 4) New Jersey 5) New York .

“When you take a look at the northeast, for example, you will see there are very powerful unions that have set up a self-perpetuating cycle where they put up money to get politicians elected and those same politicians kick it back with lavish, taxpayer-funded benefit packages,” said Vernuccio. “The union bosses and the politicians are keeping each other happy at taxpayer expense. But this also would explain why people are leaving states like New Jersey that have high property taxes and unsustainable retirement programs.”

The concept of government employee unions is relatively new, Vernuccio points out. Even ardent proponents of organized labor such as President Franklin Roosevelt were dismissive of the idea.
“All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service,”….Roosevelt wrote. “The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress.”

But beginning in 2009, more union members worked for the government than for the private sector (51.8 percent), a trend that continued through 2010, according to the U.S Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. This shift has occurred in tandem with an overall drop in union membership that affects mostly the private sector. After losing over 600,000 members last year, organized labor now accounts for just 11.9 percent of all employees.

The gains organized labor has made in the public sector has placed enormous financial pressure on states, Vernuccio said. On average, government employees earned 46 percent more in salary and benefits over the past decade than did their counterparts who hold comparable positions in the private sector, according to CEI and Crossroads GPS.

“Although public attention is understandably focused on what is happening at the federal level, we are trying to drive home the point that state level policies are also having a dramatic impact,” Vernuccio said. “Some of the legislation union bosses failed to advance on Capitol Hill remains in effect in many states.”

The Employee Free Choice Act, which included a “card check” provision that would replace the use of secret ballots in unionization elects and binding arbitration, which allows for unelected officials to determine government employee compensation, failed to pass even with Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate. But these policies are in effect in many states.

“There’s a lesson here for `Right to Work’ states like Louisiana,” Vernuccio said. “It is very possible for union officials to burrow in with policy schemes that can gradually unwind the protections citizens now enjoy from forced unionization.”

Louisiana is one of 22 “Right to Work” states that allow residents to decide for themselves whether or not they want to join a union. Louisiana is also recognized as one of the top pro-taxpayer states in the union on the Index; it is ranked number six out of all 50 states.

State lawmakers advanced several pieces of legislation earlier this year set in an effort to further secure taxpayer and business interests. Louisiana became the fifth state in 2011 to ban government mandated Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), which favor union construction shops over non-union shops. Rep. Tony Ligi (R-Metaire) also introduced a bill that would require collective bargaining sessions to be subjected to open meetings law requirements. Ligi’s bill failed to make it out of committee by just one vote, but he expects to re-introduce the legislation next year.

Kevin Mooney is an investigative reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be reached at kmooney@pelicanpolicy.org and followed on Twitter.