Today, two Colorado newspapers ran stories about growing unionization in state government. I was quoted in both articles, as the issue is one I’ve researched and have an Independence Institute publication being formatted for official release on Monday. There’s only so much space in a news article. But that’s what makes a blog a wonderful venue for revising and extending my remarks, as a way to press the debate forward.
First, Chris Barge in the Rocky Mountain News introduces the issue:
The unions that pushed the hardest for Gov. Bill Ritter’s executive order granting them a larger voice in state government could soon see a nearly fourfold increase in membership….
The unions, which had fewer than 6,000 dues-paying state workers on their rolls before the Nov. 2 order, could soon exclusively represent the vast majority of the state’s 32,000 qualifying workers.
Then the part where yours truly comes in:
Benjamin DeGrow, education policy analyst at the conservative Independence Institute, plans to release a competing report on Monday called “A Shaky Foundation, a Potential Threat: Analyzing Colorado State Union ‘Employee Partnerships.’ “
He argues that Ritter’s executive order granting union representation through so-called “partnership agreements” is misguided, unnecessary and ultimately will result in unions holding Ritter and lawmakers hostage to their demands for higher wages and benefits.
Ritter has emphasized that his order specifically bans strikes, prohibits binding arbitration and bars unions from charging dues to nonmembers. Last week he signed a state worker strike ban into law.
Unfortunately, Gov. Bill Ritter only gets credit for one out of three on that recycled claim.
Yes, Ritter’s executive order essentially prohibits binding arbitration, so he gets that one right. Even so, I explain that the order may lead us to binding arbitration. That’s in today’s other article, a Colorado Springs Gazette piece written by Ed Sealover:
Ben DeGrow, a policy analyst with the conservative Independence Institute, argued, however, that permitting partnerships opens the door to further allowances, including binding arbitration.
And that’s Ritter’s strongest claim of the three. As to the other two, the executive order’s strike ban was useless and required legislation to fix – legislation the governor signed last week with no enforceable consequences, legislation that ends up having the same effect as the ban on adultery.
Third, the claim that the order “bars unions from charging dues to nonmembers” is entirely inaccurate. The order is completely silent on the issue. If Ritter wanted to protect non-member workers from paying unwanted fees, he could have explicitly written it into the order. Instead, dissenting state employees are left subject to the whim of a private negotiation process.
A point I emphasized to both reporters, a point that didn’t make the cut, was that union certification requires a simple majority of ballots cast – not a true majority of affected employees. State workers have to make their voice heard in the election. A non-vote is not a vote against representation.
The Gazette story observed:
The group representing 709 Colorado State Patrol employees voted overwhelmingly last month to be represented by the Association of Colorado State Patrol Professionals.
While ACSPP did win 75 percent of the ballots cast, only 431 ballots were cast. That means 324 out of 709 troopers (or about 46 percent) approved union representation.
One final clip from the Gazette that merits a response:
Colorado is 49th in the country in employer contribution to state workers’ individual health coverage.
This isn’t the venue to expand on the health care reform debate. No one is going to deny that the cost of health insurance premiums has been rising at an uncomfortable rate for many families. But Colorado state employees are far from uniquely affected by the problem.
The 49th ranking (49th? Where have I heard that before?) is misleading for at least one major reason: The comparison is made using an HMO plan, but most Colorado state employees subscribe to the family PPO plan. Colorado state employees pay a smaller share of the family PPO premium than the regional average. Their health benefits are not stellar and gold-plated, but they are certainly not as stingy as advertised.
Subtracting health insurance premiums from wages, and adjusting for cost of living, Colorado state employees are better compensated than state employees in six of seven neighboring states (and just a whisker behind Nebraska), and on average earn 3.8 percent more than workers in Colorado’s private sector.
But didn’t Gov. Ritter say his union “partnerships” weren’t about increasing wages and benefits? Too bad the union leaders know, and have advertised, that his order leaves negotiations open to these topics.
Well, anyway, stay tuned: the final Independence Institute report will have all the details. I’ll let you know when it’s online and ready to be viewed.