The problem Government employee unions have become a persistent obstacle to reforming government in Illinois. At every level, and on a wide range of issues, union officials work to prevent changes that are desperately needed. In Chicago, the teachers union is has threatened a strike to prevent teachers from working a longer day. Meanwhile in Springfield, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees staged protests opposing pension reforms in the run up to a special session of the General Assembly called to address that same topic. Under intense union pressure, lawmakers failed to pass any legislation to address $203 billion in government employee pension and health insurance debt.
Unions are able to do these things because Illinois labor law gives unions tremendous powers while shielding them from accountability. The following are the key tenets of labor law that empower government unions:
Exclusive representation means that union officials have the power to represent workers who often do not support the union and do not always benefit from the unionís efforts.
It is difficult to remove a union; the union may remain in place even if it has few genuine supporters.
The typical contract guarantees that unions will receive hundreds of dollars for every worker under the guise of union dues. This adds up to millions of dollars in what is basically taxpayer money with no strings attached.
In many cases, government employee unions take the lead in electing politicians, and then negotiate contracts with those same politicians. Illinois labor law simply gives government union officials sweeping powers and at the same time allows them to be accountable to nobody. This is a recipe for disaster.
The solution There are a wide range of actions that the General Assembly could take that will alleviate the union problem, but they all boil down to one of two things: First, place some limits on union power, and second, make unions more accountable to the rank-and-file union members they represent. This means letting individual government employees decide whether or not to pay union dues so union officials really need to listen to workers or lose funds. State law should call on unions to file detailed financial reports so government employees know where their money is going. Unions should be obligated to run for re-election every few years, so unions that donít have genuine support will be eliminated. And when union demands make government programs ineffective or needlessly expensive, the General Assembly should step in and say that those things cannot be part of a contract.
Why this works Government employee unions have too much power and not enough accountability. When unionsí power is scaled back and accountability is restored, government unions will answer to workers for everything they do, elected officials will hear more from ordinary citizens and less from unionized government employees, and government will run more smoothly with less union interference.