Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch, of Utah, and Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee, recently introduced the Employee Rights Act of 2013. Their proposal includes a provision requiring that unions undergo recertification elections at regular intervals. (The measures has 68 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and 26 in the Senate). Some advocates will perhaps say every three years would be an appropriate interval, and others might say five years. In his landmark public employee union reforms for Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker made recertification an annual event.
Whatever the interval, the experience of Wisconsin teachers' union members points to the importance of recertification becoming a national norm. As the Weekly Standard's John McCormack recently reported, “Teachers unions in nineteen different Wisconsin school districts failed to achieve recertification during annual elections that ended Thursday. ... Under Act 10, the Wisconsin law signed by Gov. Scott Walker that reformed collective bargaining for public sector unions, each union is required to get the support of a majority of its members -- not simply a majority of those casting votes -- in order to maintain certification each year.
“An additional 51 collective bargaining units representing support staff, substitute teachers, and custodians in various school districts also disbanded, which means that a total of 70 out of the state's 408 collective bargaining units associated with education failed to achieve recertification this year. The elections were conducted by a telephone voting system over a three-week period.”
Town Hall's Matt Batzel estimates that about 100,000 Wisconsin public employees have voted to decertify their unions in the two years Walker's reforms have been on the books.
There is no reason to think Wisconsin's unionized public employees are any different from those in the other 49 states. Public employee unions now make up the bulk of the nation's unionized workers, but, being government employees, they are not covered by the National Labor Relations Board. Government employee unions are instead regulated by the Federal Labor Relations Authority at the federal level and by a host of separate authorities at the state and local government levels. So the bureaucratic obstacles facing reform-minded public employee union members can be especially daunting.
That is why the proposal by Hatch and Alexander would establish a vitally important precedent in the private sector that should be applied to all union organizations. Just as company profits and losses can vary over time, thus requiring regular renegotiation of contracts, tax revenues and debt obligations facing taxpayers at all levels of government change from year to year. Private sector managers have no choice but to make decisions accordingly, since they must match incomes and expenses on the bottom line.
Public employee union members, however, occupy the unique position of being both workers and taxpayers. They vote for their public officials at regular intervals, but they almost never have the opportunity to vote in recertification elections. Such elections would introduce an important new accountability factor for public employee union leaders. Failure to keep in mind that their members are also taxpayers should have the sort of consequences provided by a regular recertification election.