Sam Carpenter on Public Employee Unions

“I’ve worked in trades and been a member of three different unions in the private sector. I respect the rights of workers and employers in the private sector to form unions and work under contracts. But when it comes to public employees, there’s a problem – because the employer isn’t the state, it’s the taxpayers. It’s all of us.” – Sam Carpenter

Over the years, unions have undergone dramatic shifts. In the early days of organized labor, unions provided necessary protections for workers. But over time, we’ve created laws that protect workers, provide safe work environments, minimum wages, sick-leave, and more. As a result, the need for unions in the private sector has diminished. Today, only 6% of the private sector work force are union members. However, over this same period of time, we’ve seen steady growth in the public sector, as 34% of government workers are now members of public employee unions.

Why is the difference significant?

In the private sector, both unions and employers have rights and powers to protect their interests. A union can collectively bargain for contracts and can go on strike. An employer can halt production, sell the business, or declare bankruptcy if costs spiral out of control. Ultimately, an employer can relocate the work somewhere else, to obtain cheaper labor. We’ve seen this happen with manufacturing moving overseas (or to right-to-work states). There is a balancing act, in which the unions and employers need to consider not only their own immediate interests, but the bigger picture, in order to keep the company as a whole viable and strong so that workers can have job security and employers can make a profit.

In the public sector, it’s a different matter: both labor and management are employees of the people. When the governor negotiates with state employees, there is an inherent conflict of interest – they are BOTH employees of THE PEOPLE. And we, the people, do not have such powers as being able to shut down our government, sell our bureaucracies to other states, or escape financial catastrophe through drastic measures such as bankruptcy. And we certainly can’t relocate our government to China! Instead, we are stuck watching our employees negotiating with each other, while we sit back, powerless.

What’s more, public employee unions and the radical progressive far-left leadership of our Oregon government work together to advance their common agenda: the growth of government and ever-increasing government worker salaries. It’s a pretty good racket they have going! The public employee unions spend union dues and provide organized labor to help progressive politicians get elected and reelected. Then the politicians increase the size of government and provide annual pay raises. More government means more union members. And with union dues being a fixed percentage of salary, pay raises mean more union dues. And that all adds up to more money and resources to devote to progressive political campaigns.

It’s a vicious circle of government corruption and bloat and it needs to end.

To be clear here, it’s not the individual worker’s fault. Most government employees are good-hearted people who take pride in serving their community and want to make a difference. But they have little choice under Oregon law – they must either pay dues to the union or else have a “fair share” of their wages donated to a charitable fund approved by the union if they refuse union membership. Given no choice as to the cost, most government workers simply go along with membership rather than see their wages siphoned off with no benefit.

No worker, public or private, should be required to join a union as a condition of employment – and no worker who rejects union membership should be required to pay dues. Sam Carpenter fully supports right to work laws, currently in place in 28 states, for Oregon.

But there is more than simply ensuring a right to work. There must also be a clear and simple system in place to allow all workers to make informed choices and act on them free from hassle. Here in Oregon, individual home health workers who provide services (often caring for a dependent family member) under contracts with the Department of Human Services and the Oregon Health Authority are automatically enrolled into SEIU 503, the same union that represents DHS and OHA employees. Because these care providers are not state employees, they have a right to opt out of union membership – and pay neither dues nor “fair” share. However, SEIU has put up outrageous barriers that make it all but impossible to opt out, resulting in costly litigation.

For example, SEIU arbitrarily creates an annual two-week “window” in which it will accept a request to opt out. If a member submits a written request to leave the union, it is literally thrown in the trash if it doesn’t come within that window. One litigant in the case against SEIU has submitted 40 formal, written requests to leave the union, to no avail. It is a basic tenet of freedom that no person should continue to be compelled to remain in any organization against his or her will. And these workers aren’t just stuck being members – they are stuck paying dues. According to Freedom Foundation, a non-profit organization fighting for workers’ rights and supporting the litigation, SEIU has collected over $370,000 in dues from “members” who have already requested to opt out. As Freedom Foundation points out, “In most places this is considered stealing and is a criminal offense. In SEIU’s line of work, it’s just another day at the office.”

Instead of automatic enrollment into a public employee union, with a complicated and difficult method to opt out, all workers – be they contracted employees or state workers – should be given a choice to opt in at the time of their employment, and to opt in or out any time thereafter. If you want to join the union, join the union and pay dues. If you don’t want to join the union, don’t – and keep your money.

Make it a choice. And make it an easy choice.

Some of these issues may be resolved as early as the Spring of 2018, as the Supreme Court of the United States is currently addressing public employee union membership in the case Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31. As governor, Sam Carpenter will work with the Legislature and the Department of Administrative Services to ensure future contracts with state workers and their public employee unions protect the right to work and ensure we, the people, get a fair deal as employers.

“I believe in Right to Work. Period.” – Sam Carpenter