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Three Republican Governors
Hit Unions


August 11, 2005
 
POLITICS AND POLICY 
 
Bargaining Rights Are Rescinded
For State Employees,
One of Big Labor's Last Strongholds
By JOI PRECIPHS
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL August 11, 2005; Page A4

Several Republican governors are trying to weaken organized labor in the one
place it has remained strong: representing public employees.

First-term Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt rescinded collective-bargaining rights
for state employees this year, undoing an executive order issued by a
Democratic predecessor, and has eliminated a state board overseeing union
elections for public employees. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a former Bush
White House budget director, overturned an executive order that for 15 years
provided collective-bargaining rights for that state's public employees. And
Maryland's Robert Ehrlich, backed by the state Supreme Court, suspended a 2%
pay increase unions had negotiated for state employees with his predecessor.

The three governors, following earlier moves by Kentucky's Republican
governor, Ernie Fletcher, say that their actions are warranted in an
environment where state budgets are just beginning to recover from severe
stress, and that public employees' unions waste resources and block
government restructuring efforts.

"Missouri taxpayers ought to determine how state employees are compensated,
not some arbitrary arrangement between a government bureaucrat and a labor
union," Mr. Blunt told the Associated Press shortly after his decision.
Public-employee union leaders are "just concerned with their own welfare,"
says Spence Jackson, spokesman for Gov. Blunt. "The governor believes that
state employees have the best employer in the world -- the taxpayers of this
state."

"That's bull," says Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of
State, County and Municipal Employees. "We have reached out in almost every
state to address [efficiency issues]. Who better knows the problems in the
states besides public employees?"

The National Labor Relations Act doesn't give public employees the same
rights as private-sector ones to organize unions and engage in collective
bargaining, which consists of negotiating issues such as wages, benefits and
work conditions. Instead, employees of some states have obtained those
rights through state laws or orders issued by the governor.

According to AFSCME, 25 states and the District of Columbia have passed
comprehensive public-sector labor-relations laws, extending collective
bargaining to public employees at state and local levels; an additional
15 states have passed less sweeping laws, granting limited collective
bargaining rights.

 
Public employees are a source of strength -- and revenue -- for the
embattled labor movement. About one in every three of the nation's five
million state-government employees is represented by a union, compared with
fewer than one in 12 private-sector employees. AFSCME has more members than
any other union in the AFL-CIO.

The bitterness between AFSCME and unions that recently quit the AFL-CIO
-- including the Service Employees International Union, which has a
significant public-employee unit -- is posing a challenge to unions'
allies, says former Missouri Democratic state Sen. Ken Jacob, now director
of AFSCME Council 72. "The people you'd normally talk to [at the national
level] are fighting each other."

Last year, SEIU sparked controversy within organized labor by donating more
than $500,000 to the Republican Governors Association, one of several ways
that its strategy diverged from some other AFL-CIO unions.
Organized labor -- particularly public-employee unions -- generally has been
more generous to Democrats. Mr. McEntee excoriated the SEIU for funding an
association that backs some antiunion governors, including Gov. Blunt. "You
have no control over where the money goes," he says.

"We are a party committee, and we support all the candidates under our
party," says Mike Pieper, director of the Republican Governors Association.
"We don't have an agenda when it comes to labor in one way or another."

Mr. McEntee rejects claims that AFSCME can't work with Republicans; it is
the type of Republicans that matters. "We're going to support moderate
Republicans, if we can find them," he says, citing relationships with
"fair-minded" Republican former governors such as George Voinovich of Ohio,
James R. Thompson of Illinois and Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania. Those governors
presided over states that have been union strongholds. Almost half of the
nation's 15.5 million union members live in six states: California, New
York, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

In states where unions have fewer members and less clout -- especially the
22 states with "right-to-work" laws making it illegal to require workers to
join labor unions as a condition of employment -- public-employee unions
often find themselves on the defensive these days.

In Missouri, Gov. Blunt, then Missouri's secretary of state, made unions a
linchpin of his campaign against Democratic incumbent Bob Holden. He
particularly targeted the state's practice of deducting a fee from nonunion
workers' paychecks that went to the state employees union, ostensibly to
compensate them for the costs of representing them. After he took office, he
repealed Mr. Holden's executive order granting collective-bargaining rights,
saying that decision should be up to the General Assembly. The new governor
said his decision to suspend the board that monitored union elections among
state employees should cut costs; duties were shifted to the state's Labor
and Industrial Relations Commission, which handles workers' compensation and
unemployment-benefit cases. State union officials say they are concerned
about the commission's workload.

In Indiana, after Gov. Daniels took office and stripped state employees of
collective-bargaining rights, more than 20,000 hospital attendants, welfare
case workers, health-care workers, state troopers and clerical workers were
affected. He also is backing efforts to privatize nursing services in the
corrections department and administrative responsibilities in certain
social-service agencies.

In Maryland, unions accused Gov. Ehrlich of circumventing legally mandated
agreements for state employees' health care and benefits; courts have sided
with him. His administration also has been engaged in dismissals of
civil-service personnel that have prompted a probe by state legislators.

Write to Joi Preciphs at joi.preciphs@dowjones.com1

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