Another Wisconsin Winner: Choice in Worker Representation
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The Wisconsin recall election, decided Tuesday with Governor Scott Walker's victory, was fueled partly by public-employee unions upset that their members would have to contribute more for health and pension benefits. Another element of Gov. Walker’s reforms that didn’t get as much attention nationally was a provision that gave public employees the choice of remaining union members. In City Journal, Wisconsin political analyst Christian Schneider wrote:
Walker’s reform meant that government workers could now opt out of paying these dues—savings that could help offset those workers’ newly increased health and pension payments, the governor said.
When given this option, many public employees chose not to be union members. According to the Wall Street Journal, membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Wisconsin’s second-largest public-employee union “fell to 28,745 in February from 62,818 in March 2011,” the state's largest public-employee union, the Wisconsin Education Council (WEAC), lost 20,000 members (via QandO), and 6000 members of the American Federation of Teachers left when given an option.
Nationally, the trend is significant but less dramatic:
Membership in AFSCME fell 4.2% to 1.32 million, from 1.37 million, between March 2011 and February 2012, according to internal union documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal. The union had declines in all but seven states. In the same period, the number of state and local workers nationwide fell less than 1%, according to the Labor Department.
Unions and collective bargaining play an important role in the labor market, but workers should be free to make an educated choice. Instead, unions and their allies push ideas like “ambush” elections and card check that would give unions an unfair advantage.
In the case of Wisconsin public employees, when given the option of paying union dues or not, many choose not to.