What Unions Really Fear

Teacher unions are predictably opposed to the appointment of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, primarily because he is likely to be the fifth vote to put an end to agency fees for public sector unions.

This would have a damaging effect, but not the existential one that people on both sides of the issue claim. After all, both NEA and AFT have affiliates in states without agency fees. They are not as powerful as those in New York, California, New Jersey and Illinois, but some are still major political players in their states. Florida is a good example.

Florida doesn’t allow agency fees, but it still allows exclusive bargaining. Since teachers are not required to pay the union, many of them don’t. This leaves many locals negotiating contracts for everyone in a bargaining unit, but having less than a majority of that unit as paying members.

This is far from ideal for the unions. They have a large number of free riders. On the other hand, the majority of teachers have no direct say in the operations of the union, including the contents of the contract. This frees the union from satisfying a variety of demands and enables it to pursue its own priorities.

This has not escaped the notice of the state’s Republican legislators. A bill was introduced in both chambers that would require most public employee unions to prove they had a majority of the bargaining unit as dues-paying members. If not, they would be decertified as exclusive representative.

The bill easily passed the GOP-dominated House, but is in some trouble in the state senate.

The bill’s sponsors said they couldn’t estimate how many local unions would be decertified, but I can answer that, at least as it involves the Florida Education Association.

FEA estimates more than 60 percent of its K-12 locals would lose exclusive bargaining privileges, and more than half of its higher education locals.

This is really what public sector unions everywhere are worried about. While even the loss of exclusivity would not be the end of public sector unions, it would devastate their current mode of operations and force revolutionary change upon them.

Everyone talks about the effects of competition on schools. No one spends time on the effects of competition on school labor relations. Would it be chaos, as many union advocates claim, or would it settle into a mode similar to private schools, universities, and businesses?

Teacher unions will not thrive in a world without agency fees. But they will survive. They are not prepared to survive in a world without exclusive bargaining.