By Paul Gessing
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” — George Orwell
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez stated recently that her administration wants to stop allowing union dues to be withdrawn automatically from state employee paychecks. The head of one government employee union called this statement a “declaration of war” against the unions.
What could generate such heated rhetoric from one of New Mexico’s most powerful special interest groups? Simply put, government employee unions benefit greatly from having their members’ dues and non-members’ “fair share” payments automatically deducted from their paychecks (“fair share” payments are funds extracted from non-union workers for the supposed purpose of funding union bargaining efforts).
Before the unions and their supporters “go to war,” it’s worth pointing out that former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the hero of so many liberals, opposed the very existence of government employee unions and expressed these views in a 1937 letter, writing, “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.
FDR was right. Whereas private-sector unions are limited by the ability of their employers to survive in a competitive marketplace, government unions can use their tremendous political power to put politicians in power that will tap the tremendous taxing and spending powers of government to provide ever higher wages and benefits. This system eventually faltered with Detroit’s bankruptcy, but that is the exception that proves the rule.
It would seem that using taxpayer resources for the benefit of a private organization is a violation of New Mexico’s “anti-donation clause.” Undoubtedly, collecting union dues is a benefit given to the unions that is not available to other, similar organizations. Imagine the State of New Mexico collecting dues on behalf of the National Rifle Association, National Right to Life or the ACLU, for that matter!
The idea that refusing to collect dues on unions’ behalf is a declaration of “war” illustrates the unions’ strong sense of entitlement.
The government unions will make several arguments against the proposed change. For starters, they will claim they need to take “fair share” payments from non-members because state law mandates that unions negotiate wages and benefits on behalf of all workers, not just union members. Of course, government unions are the ones that have demanded such collective bargaining laws as a means of accumulating political power in the first place.
When given the choice, many government workers choose not to support the unions. According to the Wisconsin-based Capital Times, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in the state suffered a 45 percent drop in revenue as workers opted out of dues payments in the wake of reforms in Wisconsin that included the end of taxpayer-funded dues collection.
This is why Martinez’s proposal to stop collecting dues on behalf of the unions strikes such fear in the hearts of union bosses. Whether they will admit it publicly or not, union dues are fungible. They can be used for whatever the bosses wish, including political activity. Less dues money to spend means less political power for government employee unions.
To be sure, this political activity is incredibly partisan. According to Followthemoney.org, one prominent New Mexico-based government labor union, AFSCME Council 18, gave 100 percent of its political contributions between 2004 and 2012 to Democrats. Even if collecting union dues were somehow a justifiable use of taxpayer funds, is it any surprise that Martinez, the elected leader of New Mexico’s government, wants to stop taxpayers from fundraising for her opposition?
The legality of actually stopping dues payments is somewhat murky. It appears that Martinez could act unilaterally to stop collecting dues for the unions despite “evergreen” provisions put in place under former Gov. Bill Richardson. Any efforts to curtail the power of government unions will be seen as a “declaration of war,” but “war” on taxpayers and any effort to reduce dependency on government is exactly what the unions have been engaged in for years. Finally, that battle has been joined.
Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility. Contact him at [email protected]