SADOW: Unions Hold On To Preferential Treatment, For Now

Unions kept their winning streak alive yesterday at the Capitol, showering disdain upon taxpayers and letting hypocrisy bloom fully among state legislators – and laying bare the real fear they wish to keep hidden from those who subsidize them.

Earlier this session, a bill that would have halted taxpayer subsidization of pensions of future union officials while they were not performing state duties was shunted aside. Yesterday, the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee took up HB 451 by state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, which would had removed public employees from processing the transfer of compensation diverted to union dues for all except public safety employees.

Seabaugh explained the bill was as simple as instead of an employee in a union or wishing to join one as part of the job hiring or change in personnel status filling out a piece of government paperwork to authorize public employees on taxpayer time to authorize deduction on a regular basis union dues from paychecks, the employee would fill out one provided by a union or bank (or one could even do this online) to make a direct debit on that regular basis. As a matter of principle, he said government should not be in the business of assisting with taxpayer resources a private entity in performing one of its duties, especially one that bargained with government over taxpayer resources.

Opponents presented a dizzying array of straw men, red herrings, andnon sequitur arguments against this obvious proposition. Some asked why unions appeared to be singled out when deductions for things like insurance or for charitable organizations would continue to be allowed under the bill. But these are apples and oranges comparisons. For example, the offering of benefits, some compulsory and others voluntarily taken, under programs overseen by a government as part of compensation and deducted as a part of figuring and reporting that compensation (often with tax implication) is entirely different from a non-compensation issue of dues collected on behalf of a private organization apart from the government and whose contractual relationship is not overseen by the government, in the case of a union membership. And donations to a nonprofit go for charitable purposes, which are not the primary purposes of a union’s existence where dues are not donation and serve as a contractual relationship between member and organization.

They also wondered why public safety employee dues would be exempt. However, the value of the principle is not all-or-nothing; it stands independently of whether it is applied with uniformity. Just because it is not applied in totality or consistently does not make it suddenly undesirable to be applied in no instance; in this case, taxpayers would benefit even by partial application and thus there is no rational reason to reject something beneficial when applied only because it is applied partially.

Some brought up the issue of cost savings, claiming there would be none – a proposition absurd on its face. Basic logic dictates that if a government employee spends time doing things like shuffling and explaining paperwork, entertaining questions about the deduction, and performing data entry as a result of this, that this is time and productivity that could be spent on matters dealing with government, not on behalf of a private organization. In testimony, even as there was not a fiscal note on the bill, one opponent claimed the Legislative Fiscal Office had reviewed the bill and issued a finding that it would not have a “material” savings – obscuring the result that there would be savings, just not much. In a way, by passing this into law, it would provide a kind of pay increase to government employees that must deal with this, for they would receive the same pay with a small decrease in duties.

Finally, opponents extraneously argued that if supporters believed in devolving as many possible powers and functions in state government, that this state law would conflict with lower-level governments who would want to keep union due deductibility as a privilege for employees. Yet this introduces yet another illogical all-or-nothing scenario that mandates in effect that all policy made in a state – and keep in mind constitutionally that all power in a state flows from the state and that local governments exercise only those powers that state governments either allow them to have or those which they are not deprived – either must come from the state level or local level, when a mixture certainly is acceptable. For example, would opponents support allowing local governments the option to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and others to prohibit it, or would they prefer that the state not allow any discrimination? Not assigning a policy all-or-nothing state-or-local does not address it merits or demerits.

In fact, legislators showed a wide hypocritical streak in their opposition. Every Democrat on the committee voted against it, plus no-party state Rep. Dee Richard. Many of these same Democrats waste no opportunity in complaining how government employees deserve pay raises, and here they have a chance in effect to give one and they sell out to their ideological allies. Richard deserve special scorn here, for he presents himself as a champion of taxpayers, for example with a bill to reduce state government contracting, yet he sold them out on this issue.

And this hypocrisy is born of fear because they are lapdogs to unions, who badly want this bill sidelined. Unions sent dozens of representatives to testify against a bill that, if we take them at their own words, would cost a pittance for them rather than governments to administer. Even members of public safety unions, not affected by the bill, testified against it, demonstrating that their loyalty is to themselves and their union buddies regardless of bargaining unit first with taxpayers and the citizenry dragging the rear. One of these said it was way too difficult for them to keep up with members’ address changes; but why should taxpayers be charged with doing this for them? They vented that the bill was “anti-union,” “unethical,” “unjust,” and would destroy unions if passed.

Very tellingly, note the logic here. They argued that if they did not receive this subsidy and preferential treatment from government that their very existences were at stake. Which led state Rep. Lance Harristo remark that if this were the case, there was something these organizations were doing wrong that made them so dependent on government performing this task. After all, if they truly were bringing value to their members, why would these members seem so deterred from paying dues if they had to sign a government piece of paper as opposed to a non-government one?

So this is what it’s all about, the dirty secret these unions wish so badly not to be exposed: they add so little in value to an employee’s experience and/or these unions are so disorganized or so oriented towards fulfilling their leaders’ wants (note that many of the testifiers who showed up either had that paid for by their unions or by governments themselves) that to be cut off from government subsidization they think they would shrivel up and have ended the gravy train for their leaders. Maybe if this government privilege was ended their leaders might orient themselves more towards serving their members and place less attention on themselves, making their outfits more relevant and attractive to a work force increasingly indifferent to them. And their cries of apocalypse probably ring hollow: with Louisiana being a right-to-work state and not a large portion of the government workforce already unionized, there’s not many members to lose in any event.

The national trend has been to end this preferential treatment, and once again Louisiana threatens to lag where public policy is concerned (even as the state’s mainstream media ignore the issue entirely: no outlet ran a story on either of these bills, even though debate for them lasted altogether four hours). After a motion to defer involuntarily the bill – meaning it could not be brought up again effectively before the end of the session – lost, the eight Republicans on the committee matched with yeas the nays of the Democrats and Richard on voting for final passage, so with an 8-8 tie technically the bill remains unreported, meaning that a majority of the House may pull it from the committee directly to the floor. If party voting holds there, that can happen and it will pass. For the sake of the taxpayer and to create more responsible and responsive unions for their members, let’s hope this happens.

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