WPC opens new Center for Worker Rights

Jan 12, 2018

Washington Policy Center has kicked off the New Year by opening an eighth research center that will focus on promoting worker rights and reforming how labor unions operate in our state. 

Over the years, it has become clear that opposition to many of the free-market policy reforms recommended by WPC—across a broad range of issues from improving the state’s small business climate, to solving the transportation crisis, to reforming the education system, to reducing government spending and increasing transparency—share a common denominator.  The primary obstacle to reform is the powerful special interest group that is organized labor.

Labor unions exert an astonishing level of influence on policy making in our state.  Each legislative session, dozens of good bills die in committee on no more than the spoken opposition of a powerful union insider.

Why do labor unions, especially those in the public sector, enjoy such influence?  Because Washington is a forced-unionism state.   Workers in our state, including those who work for government, must pay union dues and fees in order to get and keep a job in a workplace represented by a union.   Whether those workers want to be represented by a union is irrelevant; they have no rights and no choice. They are forced to pay the union or find another job.  The union does not even have to do the collecting; the government automatically takes the money from each workers paycheck and gives it to the union.  Workers never even see their earnings before it is diverted to the union.

Unions then use those forcibly extracted dollars to elect lawmakers, including the governor, who will support their agenda.  Those elected officials pass labor-friendly policies that in turn increase unions’ power; and the cycle of special interest corruption continues.

It is not a coincidence that as private sector union membership has dropped, union membership in the public sector has swelled.  That has been an important part of lawmakers’ payback to the unions that helped elect them. 

This symbiotic relationship between public sector unions and lawmakers has created an imbalance of power, fed by taxpayer dollars.

The new Center for Worker Rights will promote labor reform policies to end forced unionism, protect worker rights and restore a more reasonable balance of power in our state.

WPC is not alone in believing the time has come to end organized labor’s exploitation of workers.  Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court was poised to render a crippling blow to labor unions in a case that challenged the forced unionization of public school teachers. 

Tired of her union’s uncompromising policies that hurt children and teachers, teacher Rebecca Friedrichs challenged the forced unionization of public school teachers in the landmark case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.  Most constitutional experts, legal pundits, the media, and even union leaders, agreed the Court would likely end the forced unionization of public employees.  

Unfortunately, the Friedrichs case went unresolved after Justice Scalia unexpectedly passed away just one month after oral arguments.  But it has paved the way for other cases reviving the legal challenge to the forced unionization of public workers.

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear Janus v. the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.  The case resurrects Friedrichs legal arguments against the forced unionization of public workers.  If the Court rules in favor of Mark Janus, which appears likely, public employees in the 22 non right-to-work states, like Washington, will no longer be forced to choose between paying the union or keeping their jobs.  Every public employee in the nation will be free to choose. 

Landmark legal cases in the nation’s highest court are not the only recourse for meaningful labor reform.  Three Lincoln County Commissioners in Eastern Washington bravely took on labor unions to open up their County’s secret collective bargaining process.  They believe the public’s right to know trumps any union claim of privacy when it comes to negotiating government employees’ wages and benefits—which are, after all, funded by taxpayer dollars.  Now Kittitas County and two school districts in our state have followed in their footsteps, and several more local governments are considering similar reforms.

Clearly the time is right for labor reform.  Our new Center for Worker Rights will work with other national and state organizations, such as the Freedom Foundation, that are dedicated to ending the collusion between the government and labor unions.  Together we can protect the rights of all workers in Washington state.