Public sector unions have a crucial interest in the expansion of government, spending, and by extension, interest in laws that inhibit the free movement of workers and capital. Organized labor has become the antithesis of worker freedom, throwing millions of dollars against candidates and ballot measures that foster choice and competition. More subliminally, public sector unions’ constant advocacy for bigger government crowds out the private sector and erodes states’ free market principles.
The Alliance for Worker Freedom (AWF) has released the Index of Worker Freedom: a National Report Card, a state-by-state comparative study that measures worker freedom through an analysis of policy implications as well as quantitative state data.
One of the key findings from this year’s Index was the negative correlation between a state’s union density and its level of worker freedom. States in the top quintile of worker freedom had levels of union density 41 percent lower than the national average and 55 percent lower than states in the bottom quintile.
This finding tells only part of the story. The composition of the labor movement has changed with more than 50 percent of all union members working for the government, many of them on the state level. This change in union demographics is an important lens by which to view state labor policy, especially in heavily unionized states. Only after a thorough understanding of public sector union’s influence and the policies for which they advocate does the Index’s negative correlation between a state’s union density and its level of worker freedom begin to make sense.
The largest public-sector unions are the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, and the Service Employees International Union. All together, these organizations have more than 7 million members and collect over $2 billion a year in member dues and fees.
With this enormous war chest, public-sector unions spent $165 million on campaigns and ballot measures in December of 2007 and 2008 drowning out pro-worker initiatives—like paycheck protection—and advocating for increased spending. This fact helps explain why of the fourteen states where over 50 percent of the public sector is unionized, only one ranked in the top 50 percent of this year’s Index. To make things worse, the policies that these public sector juggernauts push do more than help the public sector union: they actively harm local businesses and make the state less economically competitive.
Unions’ vested interest in opposing pro-worker laws manifests itself in one statistic: States that do not have collective bargaining laws have an average union membership rate of just 17 percent compared to the public sector unionization national average of 39 percent. While one’s right to association is at the core of individual freedom, unions benefit from policy that prohibits this choice, and small business owners, the true creators of jobs, get the short end of the stick.
While an understanding of these affronts on worker freedom initiatives is vital, they only tell part of the story. Public sector unions’ unfailing advocacy for more government spending, more programs, and higher taxes crowds out private sector opportunities. Showing a good return on political investment by unions, a study by Chris Edwards reveals that unionized public sector workers enjoy a 31-percent advantage in wages and a 68-percent advantage in benefits over non-unionized public sector workers. While this shows that unions have been successful, as unionized public sector employees get better and better contracts that far outpace private sector competition, the American taxpayer foots the bill, and the economies of the states that play host to these anticompetitive policies suffer.
Christopher Prandoni is the Executive Director of the Alliance for Worker Freedom, an affiliate of Americans for Tax Reform.