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States Move To Give Public Workers Greater Freedom, Choice

Across the United States, the next wave of workplace freedom is being sparked.

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Several states, led by liberty-minded governors and legislatures, are providing new and groundbreaking opportunities for public-sector employees to have more choice on who represents them in the workplace.

And while even the highest court in the land is getting in on the movement, it isn’t hyperbole to say that “right to work” is becoming … so 2010. Janus v. AFSCME will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact on the country’s path toward worker freedom. Nevertheless, it is but one step in an arc bending toward liberty for public-sector workers throughout the U.S.

We’re setting new trends in the state capitols. From Madison to Des Moines to Tallahassee, freedom-minded leaders are toiling on behalf of workers demanding a true voice in their employment and their state’s governance.

Much of this energy began with Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker’s push to reform public-sector bargaining units in 2011. After the passage of Act 10 in Wisconsin, several states moved in the direction of greater worker freedom by passing right-to-work legislation, reforming public-sector unions and easing the stranglehold those unions have on worker choice. While a necessary path for many states, this effort is being upstaged by even more robust reforms aimed at creating true workplace democracy for millions of public employees.

While attorneys for Mark Janus were arguing before the Supreme Court that the 22 remaining non-right-to-work states should be freed of forced union dues, Florida was taking the battle to the next level.

In early March, our legislature passed, and Gov. Rick Scott signed, an audacious education reform package that included a provision to guarantee that public education unions are never allowed to gain the kind of perpetual longevity and power in the Sunshine State that they may enjoy elsewhere. Under these new guidelines, whenever membership in a teachers union falls below 50% of the total eligible workforce, the union would be required to recertify (have teachers vote on whether or not it should remain in place) in order to continue representing workers.

This common-sense reform will ensure that unions are providing real value to those they wish to represent, or they will find themselves replaced.

It’s important to be clear about what these efforts accomplish and why they are vital to our principles and values as Americans. For decades, public-sector employees have had little to no voice in changing their unions. They’ve been forced to support causes, organizations and political speech that they disagree with; they’ve been stuck with unions at their workplace with no competition to support; and they’ve had no choice but to resign or pay and accept representation by union leaders who earn 100 times the wage of the employees they “represent.”

They are teachers, state workers, county public works employees, city janitors, our most dedicated public servants. They keep our streets clean, educate our children, make government function, and they have done it all while lining the pockets of union bosses and lobbyists who serve no purpose other than their own self-perpetuation.

What has largely gone unmentioned in this debate is that public-sector unions have long existed as monopolies – they’ve entrenched themselves in the business of government by mandating that employees accept their representation without any alternative, and they ferociously attack and eliminate any potential competition through legislative coercion. It matters not one bit what the desires of the employees are.

There is little recourse, few competitive forces, and virtually no freedom of choice in the arrangement. It’s as close to mafia-style operations as it comes.

As the worker freedom movement expands and states like Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa strive to reinforce worker freedom in public employment, what should we expect to happen?

In theory, greater worker freedom should make public-sector unions more accountable to their members and provide much-needed competition to their business models. Imagine being a teacher or state employee and having the ability to choose among different organizations to join, based on their abilities to represent you and their philosophical positions. Greater efficiencies in representation and less overt political activity would be a benefit to public-sector employees and a catalyst for prosperity. This would be a great future for all.

In reality, we should expect organizations that have used workers’ money and political muscle solely to hold on to power for 50 years to do the only thing they really know how to — fight dirty. It will be courageous leaders in state capitols that finally put to rest the notion that there can never be a day in which workers have the freedom to make the workplace better.

  • Nuzzo is the vice president of policy and director of the Center for Economic Prosperity at the James Madison Institute, Florida’s premier free-market think tank.

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