Eliminating Agency Fees: Open Government Employment

There is a strong case to be made that a straightforward prohibition on agency fees applicable to government employees would by itself correct much of what has gone wrong with PERA. This “Open Government Employment” rule would still leave unions with the responsibility and authority to represent government employees in the workplace, and with some ability to lobby lawmakers. But rather than having dues automatically deducted and paid over according to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, individual workers would have the discretion to provide or withhold financial support based on their individual judgment of the union’s performance of its duties.

In short, with open government employment in place, funding of government employee unions would be provided only by union members who join voluntarily, not by government officials who agree to an agency-fee clause. The union’s ability to engage in political activism would thus be limited by the confidence that the union has among employees. The experience of states that do not permit agency fees in collective bargaining is that most employees will be willing to shoulder their fair share of the costs of representation. For instance, in Florida, which has a government employment rule similar to PERA and a ban on agency fees, 84 percent of government workers covered by collective bargaining agreements join the union and pay dues.[20] Nonetheless, under such an arrangement, union officials are encouraged to demonstrate that dues are needed for representation and to moderate their purely political activity to those issues where there is broad employee support.

Of course, many government employees may have a strong incentive to support political positions that expand government or increase its revenues, since this can provide employees with job security and increase the funds available for their wages and benefits. Still, this support will be neither unanimous nor automatic on every union lobbying effort. The countervailing economic pressure should moderate, though probably not completely eliminate, the tendency of government employee unions to support an aggressively statist agenda that burdens, rather than benefits, the public.