Greedy union bosses have corrupted state government, restricting municipal policymakers from governing their own affairs at the local level closer to the people.

Perpetual Contracts Will Keep Rhode Island in Perpetual Decline

Providence, RI— Statement from Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity on the “perpetual (evergreen) contracts” legislation that was signed into law today by the governor:

“The number one driver of the Ocean State’s declining population and jobs numbers –  are high property taxes. Our Public Union Excesses report clearly connects high property taxes with the excessively high costs of collectively bargained government services. This new ever-green contracts law will keep property taxes ever-high.

We continue to give an unfair advantage to the wealthiest and most connected insiders of the population, and now these special-interest groups come before the Rhode Island people and saying we don’t have enough … and we want more? This is outrageous!

It is clear today, that after 10 years of the slowest economic recovery among all states, Rhode Island’s political leaders are not fulfilling their promise to help the average family. Instead, by heaping more and more favors upon those who help get them elected, politicians have lost the trust of the people.

Beyond the financial costs, there is a more corrosive impact from this kind of political cronyism. People are fed up with betrayals from lawmakers who have forgotten them, who cater to special interest groups, and who make it harder to live and take care of their families and business – and to continue to reside and work in Rhode Island.

Sadly, Rhode Islanders will now have even less hope for our state, with even less trust in their government! In this case, perpetual contracts will make it much more likely that the state of Rhode Island will remain in perpetual decline.”

Public Union Excesses, the largest research report ever produced by the Center, details how Ocean State taxpayers are dishing out an extra $888 million per year as compared with their private sector counterparts; findings that are consistent with previous national studies, including a report by the Center in 2012. Rhode Island property taxes would be 25% lower were it not for the ‘excessive’ costs imposed on families and businesses for collectively bargained government services, in providing up to a 27% total compensation premium for government workers.

The Center refutes the unsubstantiated & off-target NEA-RI claims made by two government union officials in publicly responding to our Union Excess Report.

CENTER Refutes NEA-RI Claims about its Cost of Collective Bargaining Report

Unions Respond with Mindless Attacks and Unsubstantiated Claims

Teachers Union Response Addresses the Wrong Points

Correction

Providence, RI— The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity refutes the unsubstantiated and off-target claims made last week by two government union officials in publicly responding to the Center’s Public Union Excesses report. The eye-popping report details how Ocean State taxpayers are dishing out an extra $888 million per year in providing 26% total compensation premium for government workers as compared with their private sector counterparts, and that drive local property taxes 25% higher than they need be.

Typical of union tactics seeking to avoid discussion of the issue at hand, labor officials try to change the topic by responding with a barrage of subterfuge and attacks on the messenger. 

Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island made a series of apparently incorrect and misguided public comments when he claimed that Ocean State public school teachers make about $14,000 less in salary than their Massachusetts counterparts.

Mr. Walsh’s statement is off-target for a number of reasons:

  • The Center’s report focused on “total compensation”, while Walsh focused on just the “salary” component
  • The Center’s report compared all public sector workers to private sectorworkers in Rhode Island, while Walsh compared RI public teachers to MA public teachers
  • Most importantly, Walsh’s figures, in his attempt to downplay compensation for Rhode Island workers, do not match with public reports.

In his statement last week to the Providence Journal, Walsh claimed that RI teachers averaged $66,758 in salaries, compared to $80,357 in Massachusetts – a gap of $14,000.

However the salary figure reported in the official Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island (ERSRI) report show an average 2018 RI teacher salary of $77,581 – about $11,000 more than Walsh claimed. Further, the similar report in MA shows their average teacher salary (including Boston) was just $74,156 – about $6,000 lessthan he claimed. 

Walsh proceeded to dig himself into a deeper hole when he claimed on Twitter that the Rhode Island ERSRI figures were inflated because higher paid superintendents and other non-teaching positions were included: yet this reasoning ignores that the Massachusetts figures likely also include such positions, which only would minimally change the calculations by 1-2%. 

Per these two reports, Rhode Island teachers make about $3,000 more than do their Bay State counterparts, not the $14,000 less as claimed by Walsh.

Mr. Walsh’s initial statement about any gap could be off by as much as a whopping $17,000. When asked on Twitter to provide documentation for his figures, Mr. Walsh did not respond.

Additionally, the president of AFSCME, the largest government worker union in the state, J. Michael Downey, joined with Walsh in questioning the Center’s donor base and why it is not publicly disclosed. 

“Rather than professionally responding to the findings in our report, once again progressive-union-left leaders seek to shut down open and honest debate by mindlessly attacking the messenger,” responded Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “Both Walsh and Downey know that the US Supreme Court has ruled that their is a major difference between government transparency and privacy for nonprofit organizations; and that donors to groups like our Center should be protected from recrimination by the  government or by over-zealous activists.” 

The Center is proud to have earned the support of about 500 in-state donors in support of its core mission to return government to the taxpayers. The Center accepts no public funding and receives no contributions from any out-of-state group that attempts to influence its agenda. The Center’s full donor privacy policy can be viewed here


The 48-page report was researched and co-authored by adjunct scholar to the Center, Dennis P. Sheehan, and by the Center’s research director, Justin Katz. The reports’ findings are consistent with previous national studies, including a report by the Center in 2012.

The full report also includes tables with town-by-town estimates of the excessive total compensation costs of government workers at the municipal level, in school districts, and in independent fire districts. 

CORRECTION: Stuart Peterson, actually the former School District Finance Committee Chair, in commenting on East Greenwich’s $9.5 million excess, was incorrectly listed as former Town Finance Director in the Center’s original media release last week: “The report’s findings are certainly in line with what we have seen in East Greenwich for the last 30 years. Our residents have seen (property) tax increases three times that of inflation, and up to four times that of median household income wage growth.”


Rhode Island property taxes would be 25% lower if not for the excessive costs imposed on families & businesses by collectively bargained public unions.

CENTER’S NEW REPORT: Public Unions Cost Rhode Islanders $888 Million Per Year

Property Taxes on Families & Businesses Driven Up By 25%

“Firefighter Overtime” and “Evergreen” Bills Would Give Unions a More Unfair Negotiating Advantage

Providence, RI– With two-thirds of the statewide burden heaped on local taxpayers, Rhode Island property taxes would be 25% lower were it not for the ‘excessive’ costs imposed on families and businesses for collectively bargained government services, according to a major report released today by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity.

Public Union Excesses, the largest research report ever produced by the Center, details how Ocean State taxpayers are dishing out an extra $888 million per year in providing up to a 27% total compensation premium for government workers as compared with their private sector counterparts; findings that are consistent with previous national studies, including a report by the Center in 2012.

Rhode Island residents could save 25% on their local property taxes, while state taxpayers could realize even further savings if public services in the Ocean State were provided at competitive market rates.

“Our state cannot survive morally or economically with this obvious imbalance. At $888 for each Rhode Islander, a family of four is paying over $3500 annually for these excessive compensation deals,” emphasized the Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse. “We must find a better balance between how much union members are paid and how much taxpayers can afford.”

The 48-page report, which utilized regression analysis calculations that controlled for experience and educational levels, was researched and co-authored by adjunct scholar to the Center, Dennis P. Sheehan, who is Professor Emeritus at the Penn State University Smeal College of Business, and who taught Finance at Penn State, Purdue University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Rochester. The report was co-authored by the Center’s research director, Justin Katz, who is one of the state’s leading analyst of the state’s jobs market and overall economy. 

Among the primary drivers of excessive public union employee total compensation, up to 27% higher than for comparable services in the private sector, are:

  • The 9th most favorable pro-union laws in the nation
  • A 4-6% base “wage premium”
  • Overly generous pension and healthcare benefits
  • Systematic overtime abuse
  • Numerous collectively-bargained cash-back schemes

The “firefighter overtime” mandate bill that passed the House in April and the “evergreen contract” legislation that passed the House in May would each create new state laws granting additional unfair leverage to local union negotiators.

The Public Union Excesses report discusses in some detail how its findings are supported by prior national studies and also includes a line-by-line budget analysis of the median Rhode Island town of Portsmouth. 

One chart in particular from Portsmouth demonstrates the lost opportunity cost, whereby excessive total compensation payments mean less money to spend on other important projects. For example, the $590 million aggregate annual municipal savings could easily pay for all necessary school building repairs and upgrades in just three to four years, estimated to be at over $2 billion, statewide.

Portsmouth Total Compensation Excess Estimates Portion of Budget, FY16

 The “remaining budget” is what the town currently has to spend a er compensation.  The low-end estimate is most likely to be excess and therefore available for other purposes, while the high-end estimate is least likely to be excess and therefore needed for compensation.

“Treating the 10% of unionized government employees more like the 90% of the rest of us are treated …  is not only more fair but also builds trust that government is looking-out after everyone the same,” concluded Stenhouse.

The full report also includes tables with town-by-town estimates of the excessive total compensation costs of government workers at the municipal level, in school districts, and in independent fire districts. 

Many state and municipal leaders also provided statements that say the reports’ statistically-determined findings match up well with their actual local budget analysis:

Mike Riley, municipal pension expert on Providence’s $110 million annual total compensation excess: “This massive over-payment in the budget directly hinders the City’s capacity to properly fund its critically under-funded pension plan.”

Ken Block, WatchdogRI.com, regarding the nation’s highest-cost for firefighter services in RI: “It is time to bring local municipal labor contracting into the light. A lack of transparency helps labor and elected officials hide the true cost of municipal labor contracts.”

Rob Cote, Warwick watchdog on his city’s estimated $54 million annual excessive overpyament: “… the actual numbers taken from official Warwick budget documents substantiate the analysis in the Center’s report …”

Stuart Peterson, former School District Finance Committee Chair, on East Greenwich’s $9.5 million excess: “The report’s findings are certainly in line with what we have seen in East Greenwich for the last 30 years. Our residents have seen (property) tax increases three times that of inflation, and up to four times that of median household income wage growth.”

Larry Fitzmorris, East Bay Taxpayers Association, on Portsmouth’s $10.2 millionexcess: “The millions of dollars of excessive costs identified in the report represents institutionalized spending borne by the taxpayers that is completely unnecessary.”

Rob Coulter, President Tiverton Town Council on its $7.4 million over-payment: “This high-quality study is incredibly insightful, and is sure to help us as we keep striving for the right balance of having a first-rate municipal workforce at a cost that is fair and affordable to our residents.”

In recognition of National Employee Freedom Week (Aug 19 - 25), and despite the state's attempt to shield public employees from becoming aware of their rights, we have launched our My Pay My Say RI public awareness campaign and our MyPayMySayRI.com website to educate about public employees rights.

Center Launches “My Pay My Say RI” Campaign to Inform Public Employees of Their Restored Rights

Government Unions and Political Cronies Seek to Keep Public Servants in the Dark

Public Education Will Be Biggest Beneficiary!

Many have already opted out!

Providence, RI – In recognition of National Employee Freedom Week (Aug 19 – 25), and despite the state’s attempt to shield public employees from becoming aware of their rights, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity today launched its My Pay My Say RI public awareness campaign on its MyPayMySayRI.com website.

The campaign is designed to inform public servants of their recently restored first Amendment rights, as ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark Janus v AFSCME case. A consistent champion of constitutional rights for all citizens, the Center believes public employees deserve to know that they now have full freedom when it comes to deciding whether or not it is in their best interest to pay union dues; and that they cannot be recriminated against if they choose to leave. Prior to the Janus ruling, all state and municipal employees in Rhode Island were forceed to pay their government-designated unions as a condition of employment.

However, the Supreme Court has decided that because it is their pay, union membership – or not – is rightfully the say of every public worker; especially when workers may disagree with their union’s political advocacy, which is paid for with their dues money.

Case in point is Michelle, a municipal employee in the Ocean State, who opted-out right after the Janus ruling and who said: “I don’t understand why some of my friends continue to pay their dues despite their political views being completely opposite of what the union supports.”

The Center has partnered with the $10 million national education and outreach campaign, My Pay My Say, to launch a customized Rhode Island initiative. “Despite the governor’s and the unions’ efforts to keep public employees in the dark, our Center and our national partner have already accumulated tens of thousands of email and mailing addresses of government workers. We expect to contact them in the coming weeks and ongoing for years,” said the Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse. “We have raised enough money to fund phase I of our campaign, which will include thousands of direct mail pieces. The more money we raise, the more awareness we can create.”

The Center believes that public education will be the greatest beneficiary of the Janus ruling. Because unions can no longer force teachers who disagree with them to fund bargaining positions that tie the hands of educators, teachers will be empowered with a stronger voice to fight against ineffective policies.

The MyPayMySayRI.com website includes educational information for public employees, with a dedicated section for teachers, and will soon include information on the political spending of certain government unions. The website also includes a page for workers to tell their story if they have unsuccessfully tried to leave their union or have received unsatisfactory responses to inquiries of their employer or union officials.

“We respect each person’s right to make an informed decision. It’s unfortunate that unions and their government allies do not,” added Stenhouse. “Based on history in right-to-work states, unions will go to great lengths to obfuscate the truth and make it as difficult as possible for workers to exercise their rights. We have already been contacted by workers who were brushed aside when making honest inquiries about the Supreme Court ruling.”

The website further includes links to an opt-out page where an official letter, requesting exit from the individual’s specific union, can be automatically created and printed, as well as links to a page where individuals can indicate that they choose to remain in their union.

The Center’s multi-year ‘worker freedom’ campaign in the Ocean State had a soft-launch in July and, already, many public employees have opted to leave their union, deciding to keep more of their paychecks for their own families. Ongoing, the My Pay My Say RI campaign will include email, direct mail, traditional and digital advertising, as well as other outreach vehicles.

For more information visit the MyPayMySayRI.com website or follow us on Twitter at @MyPayMySayRI.

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity has submitted a public comment on the proposed change to prevent portions of Medicaid payments to third parties for benefits. This change would have dramatic results on the home care unionization rule.

Center Submits Public Comment On Rule Change To Protect The Home Care Industry From Attempted Unionization

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity has submitted a public comment on the proposed rule that would remove a state’s ability to reassign portions of Medicaid payments to third parties for benefits such as health insurance, skills training, and other benefits customary for employees. 

From: “no-reply@regulations.gov” <no-reply@regulations.gov>
To: mstenhouse@rifreedom.org
Sent: 8/6/2018 12:24:20 PM
Subject: Your Comment Submitted on Regulations.gov (ID: CMS-2018-0090-0001)

Regulations LogoYour comment was submitted successfully!

Comment Tracking Number: 1k2-94p4-ty5d

Agency: Centers for Medicare Medicaid Services (CMS)

Document Type: Rulemaking
Title: Medicaid Program: Reassignment of Medicaid Provider Claims: CMS-2413-P
Document ID: CMS-2018-0090-0001

Comment:
The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, a 501-C-3 public policy think tank in Rhode Island, respectfully submits comment in support of the proposed rule that would remove the regulatory text at 42 CFR 447.10(g)(4) that allows a state to reassign portions of a provider’s payment to third parties for benefits such as health insurance, skills training, and other benefits customary for employees.

Our comment uses as an example a real-life scenario made possible by 2018 Rhode Island legislation that was signed into law earlier this year … allowing for attempted unionization of the home care industry. This private industry in our state, which now successfully provides vital services, could be decimated.

This proposed Medicaid Provider Reassignment Regulation Proposed Rule, would mean that the government can no longer aid unions in their attempt to skim dues from precious Medicaid dollars, intended for the care of our loved ones.


In Rhode Island, about 7500 or so private home care workers are already represented by about 45 private-employer agencies as well as by a statewide association, the RI Partnership for Homecare. These service providers do not consider themselves to be government workers and most of these workers do NOT want to become a quasi-government employee.

The Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care, which oversees most of these private agencies, believes that government-run home care would destabilize the industry.
It is also morally unjust that federal dollars, earmarked for home care services, could have dues automatically siphoned-off by state government unions from workers’ paychecks, then transferred to the unions, with some of the funds ending-up in the political campaign coffers of SEIU. If the proposed rule is enacted, it would be just and proper that 100% of the allocated federal funding for home care services should first go to the workers; and it would then be up to the unions to collect dues – on their own – from those who freely choose to join.Earlier this summer, after a major push by SEIU and other progressive activists, legislation that had been on the back burner was rammed through Rhode Island’s General Assembly and signed by the Governor. This new law could transfer control of the home care services industry from the private sector to the government and its union allies. This proposed rule, by removing the government as its potential partner, would create less of an incentive for SEIU to attempt to unionize this industry.At the same time, the burden on state taxpayers would rise, as the government would surely provide frivolous and unnecessary benefits to allow unions to offer a more compelling reason to unionize.

The new law in Rhode Island seeks to lure home care workers, most of whom are now employed under a successfully operating private ‘agency’ system, to register with the government, becoming quasi-public employees, with their names and other personal information then to be turned over to SEIU labor bosses for the purposes of unionization efforts. A very similar approach was taken in 2013 to unionize the home child care industry; since then, union negotiated – and taxpayer funded – costs to support this industry have since risen dramatically.

This new Rhode Island law is a blatant money and power grab by unions that would crush a smoothly performing private agency system that is providing high quality home care to elderly, Medicaid, and other patients; and essentially turn over control of this industry to overly politicized and incompetent government bureaucrats. The training standards and strict oversight now required of nursing and other home care professionals would be greatly diminished.

Implementation of this proposed federal rule would remove the likelihood that government could insert itself between patients and their home care service providers.

The Center also points out how implementation of this proposed rule would create additional synergy with the direction that the nation is now heading, following landmark Janus decision, which would end the forced unionization and fee payments by public employees. As our country moves towards more freedom and less governmental control over our lives, Americans are experiencing renewed levels of prosperity. Enactment of this rule would maintain this momentum by keeping our state’s home care industry smoothly running under private management and away from the inefficiencies of the political elite and their special-interest allies.

Center Warns of Litigation in Effort to Unionize Home Care Professionals

Government and Unions Must Comply with New Legal Realities

As nation moves toward freedom, Rhode Island seeks to increase government control over our lives

Political Money & Power Grab by Unions Would Threaten Patient Safety

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 26, 2018

Providence, RI – The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity warns SEIU and the state government that it could face legal peril if they do not fully comply with the new federal restrictions expected to be in place this fall, as it pertains to the attempted unionization of the home care industry.

“The landmark Janus decision by the US Supreme Court, combined with the expected implementation of the Medicaid Provider Reassignment Regulation Proposed Rule by the federal government, means public employees can no longer be forced to support the political agenda of their designated union. It also means the government can no longer aid unions in their attempt to skim dues from precious Medicaid dollars, intended for the care of our loved ones.” explained Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center.

Stenhouse, earlier this month, attended a national symposium in Washington, DC, where it was highlighted that many legal organizations are actively looking for precedent-setting lawsuit cases if unions or their government allies do not comply with the new restrictions on how government unions may collect dues.

Outrageously, in the past and for now, federal dollars earmarked for home care services, could have dues automatically siphoned-off by the state government unions from workers’ paychecks, then transferred to the unions, with some of the funds ending-up in the political campaign coffers of SEIU. If the proposed rule is enacted, 100% of the allocated home care funding must first go to the workers; and it would then be up to the unions to collect dues – on their own – from those who freely choose to join.

“It’s a whole new ballgame,” continued Stenhouse. “And history has demonstrated in other states, unions and their bought-and-owned politician friends, will seek to bend the rules to their advantage. However, many of us are now on watch, and doing so could lead to serious legal ramifications.”

Earlier this summer, after a major push by SEIU and other progressive activists, legislation  was rammed through the General Assembly and signed by the Governor, that would transfer control of the home care services industry from the private sector to the government and its union allies.

The legislation would seek to lure home care workers, most of whom are now employed under a successfully operating private ‘agency’ system, to register with the government, becoming quasi-public employees, with their names and other personal information then to be turned over to SEIU labor bosses for the purposes of unionization efforts. A very similar approach was taken in 2013 to unionize the home child care industry; since then, union negotiated – and taxpayer funded – costs to support this industry have risen dramatically.

The Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care, which oversees most of these private agencies, believes that government-run home care would destabilize the industry.

“This is a blatant money and power grab by unions that would crush a smoothly performing private agency system that is providing high quality home care to elderly, Medicaid, and other patients; and essentially turn over control of this industry to overly politicized and incompetent government bureaucrats,”said Stenhouse in June. “The training standards and strict oversight now required of nursing and other home care professionals would be greatly diminished. Why would we want to put government in between patients and their home care service providers?”

The Center also pointed out the incongruity of this legislation and the direction that the nation is heading, following landmark Janus decision, which would end the forced unionization and fee payments of public employees. “Once again, while America is moving towards more freedom and less governmental control over our lives, Rhode Island wants to move in the opposite direction, consolidating centralized-control and planning under the political elite and their special-interest allies,” concluded Stenhouse.

The Janus case could provide right-to-work protection for all public employees in the country. Right-to-work means a union cannot get a worker fired for not paying dues or fees.

STATEMENT: Center Applauds SCOTUS Ruling on Janus case; Public Education to Benefit

More Worker Freedom From Janus Case Will Lead to Reduction in Union Power

Public Education Should be Greatest Beneficiary of Janus Case

Providence, RI — According to the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, today’s landmark decision in the Janus case, which grants workplace freedom to public employees, means that public unions will have significantly less power and money to block legislation and influence elections. “The greatest public benefit will be improvement in public education,” said Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “Many education reforms that would improve schools in disadvantaged communities are prevented by union collective bargaining agreements. If unions are no longer able to force teachers who disagree with them to fund their bargaining positions, unions will have less power to impose ineffective policies into contracts.”

#WorkerFreedom

The Center opposes legislation that would lead to the unionization of the home care industry. If enacted, the safety of patients would be put at risk, while Rhode Island families and businesses would be forced to pay higher taxes to support exorbitant union demands.

Center Opposes Legislation to Force Unionization of Home Care Professionals

Political Money & Power Grab by Unions Would Threaten Patient Safety

Citizens concerned about the care of their loved ones can contact their lawmakers online

Forced SEIU unionization would fly in the face of expected U.S. Supreme Court ruling

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 19, 2018

Providence, RI – The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity opposes legislation that would lead to the unionization of the home care industry, against the will of the nurse assistants and other professionals currently providing services to home-based patients. If enacted, the safety of patients would be put at risk, while Rhode Island families and businesses would be forced to pay higher taxes to support exorbitant union demands.

Outrageously, some of these higher taxes, intended for home care services, would be siphoned-off by unions, and will end-up in the political campaign coffers of SEIU.

According to the Center’s sources, H7803 may soon be resurrected from its “held for further study” status and will be re-considered following a major push by SEIU and other progressive activists who are seeking to give government control over the home care services industry. S2734 Sub-A was passed by the entire Senate in late May.

The legislation would force all home care workers, most of whom are employed under a successfully operating private ‘agency’ system, to register with the government, becoming quasi-public employees, with their names and other personal information then to be turned over to SEIU labor bosses for the purposes of unionization efforts. A very similar approach was taken in 2013 to unionize the home child care industry; since then, union negotiated – and taxpayer funded – costs to support this industry have risen dramatically.

Concerned citizens are requested to support an online ‘contact your lawmaker’ drive against the legislation, spurred by the Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care, which believes that government-run home care would destabilize the industry.

“This is a blatant money and power grab by unions that would crush a smoothly performing private agency system that is providing high quality home care to elderly, Medicaid, and other patients; and essentially turn over control of this industry to overly politicized and incompetent government bureaucrats,” said Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “The training standards and strict oversight now required of nursing and other home care professionals would be greatly diminished. Why would we want to put government in between patients and their home care service providers?”

The Center also points out the incongruity of this legislation and the direction that the nation may soon be taking, following next week’s expected U.S. Supreme Court decision in the landmark Janus case, which would end the forced unionization and fee payments of public employees. “Once again, while America is moving towards more freedom and less governmental control over our lives, Rhode Island wants to move in the opposite direction, consolidating centralized-control and planning under the political elite and their special-interest allies,” warned Stenhouse.

Once again unions are pushing for legislation that would give them even more leverage when it comes to negotiating Collective Bargaining Agreements for government workers. House bills 7198, 7633, and 7634 would grant all or some public employee unions underhanded perpetual contracts.

Progressive Land of Make Believe Bad Bill of the Week: Perpetual Contracts

They’re back!

Once again unions are pushing for legislation that would give them even more leverage when it comes to negotiating Collective Bargaining Agreements for government workers.

House bills 7198, 7633, and 7634 would grant all or some public employee unions an unfair advantage by keeping in place all existing collective bargaining provisions until a new contract has been agreed to by the parties – we call these “perpetual contracts” … and thus these three bills qualify as our “Progressive Land of Make Believe Bad Bills of the Week”.

In recent years, government worker unions and progressives have banded together to promote a centralized-government-control and high tax political environment. These bills exemplify this relatively new union-progressive partnership.

In living in this fantasy world of perpetual contracts, unions would never have to bargain in good faith, even in the worst of possible economic times, as they would be able to just sit back and continue to reap in their overly-generous benefits. In other words, your local taxes could never ever go down.

But wasn’t this issue decided last year? Yes it was. Despite the opposition from dozens of mayors and town leaders, the union-controlled House and Senate passed perpetual contract legislation in 2017. Thankfully, Governor Raimondo, who understands the real world when it comes to this issue, seemingly put the issue to rest by vetoing the perpetual contracts legislation.

But, the Rhode Island perpetual contracts legislation is back again this year! Why? What has changed?

In my opinion, unions are increasingly worried about how they will preserve their power, if the US Supreme Court rules against them in the Mark Janus case, which was heard by the Supremes in late February. In the expected June decision, the Supreme Court could grant government employees – such as teachers, police, and firefighters – the freedom to choose whether or not they can be compelled to join a union or pay union fees. Right now, public employee unions enjoy a negotiating monopoly and can force workers to financially support the unions’ political agenda.

Conventional wisdom believes the Supreme Court will rule against the union position. But what does this have to do with perpetual contracts? As it turns out … a lot.

Under one speculated Supreme Court ruling scenario, designed to lessen the financial impact on unions, forced dues and fees might be allowed to continue for those government workers under an existing collective bargaining contract. And that such employees could only opt-out once those existing contracts expire. But if contracts are “perpetual” – and would never therefore expire – then employees would never have the chance to opt out.

This means unions could continue to force people to have dues and fees automatically deducted from their paychecks.

This is a brilliant, yet devious maneuver. And this is how unions and their political cronies in statehouses across the country work: Finding every possible way to continue to extract money from taxpayers – and their own members – so that their financial and political power can be maintained.

As taxpayers and voters, everyone of us should be outraged that unions, and their legislative friends, conspire to devise such underhanded ways to pre-emptively evade what might be a landmark Supreme Court decision.

In our state’s progressive land of make believe, there is little doubt that the House and Senate, spurred by the desperation of public employee unions, will once again pass and send “perpetual contracts” legislation to the Governor’s desk.

It’s an election year, and the political pressure on her will be enormous, but once again, we must hope that the Governor, rooted in reality, will not be fooled or persuaded by this overt money grab by unions.

The Janus case could provide right-to-work protection for all public employees in the country. Right-to-work means a union cannot get a worker fired for not paying dues or fees.

Janus Public Policy Backgrounder

Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31

Mackinac Center for Public Policy Backgrounder

F. Vincent Vernuccio and Patrick Wright

WHAT IS THE JANUS CASE?

Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 is a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court filed by Mark Janus and two other Illinois state workers. If the justices rule in favor of Janus, the decision could:

  • Provide right-to-work protection for all public employees in the country. Right-to-work means a union cannot get a worker fired for not paying dues or fees.

BACKGROUND

All workers, whether they are in a right-to-work state or not, have the right to leave their union.

In non-right-to-work states like Rhode Island, however, employees can only opt out of paying the political portion of their dues, and many unions require them to submit paperwork to this effect annually. These workers are called “agency fee payers.”

Unions charge agency fee payers close to the same amount they charge regular members for dues. In California, for example, teachers are required to pay around 70 percent of their dues as agency fees, and in other states this amount can be even higher.

For most labor unions in Rhode Island, the amount of agency fees is left to each union and employer to negotiate, but they are often equal to dues. The exception to this contract-by-contract flexibility is for employees of the state, who are required by law to pay agency fees equal to dues even if they do not join their respective unions (RIGL 36-11-2). Rhode Island is one of only three states in the country that requires agency fees for state employees.

The right not to pay for a union’s political agenda through dues comes from the Abood v. Detroit Board of Education case, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public sector workers have a First Amendment right not to be forced to pay for union politics. Private sector workers are granted the same right through a different court decision.


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Many states give government unions a monopoly over representation. The Abood case allowed unions to force all workers covered by the collective bargaining agreement to pay for the expenses incurred for representation, regardless of whether the employee wanted such representation or not. The argument in Abood was that, if workers were given a choice, an insufficient number of them would offer financial support to the union, making it difficult for the union to bargain effectively on their behalf.

As of 2018, workers in 27 states can exercise right-to-work rights and are not forced to pay dues or fees to the union organized in their workplace. In right-to-work states, however, only about 20 percent of unionized workers exercise these rights, meaning that unions in these states still have the financial support of about 80 percent of workers, on average. This suggests that the fears that rationalized the Abood decision were likely overstated.

Similar Rhode Island Case

In the Ocean State, five police officers in the town of Westerly sued the city over a requirement that they pay almost 15% of their salaries to the local union. The Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights, a Rhode Island–based nonprofit legal entity, litigated this case to defend non-union reserve police officers from being forced to contribute $5.00 of their $35.00 hourly pay to the union local.

Hopkins Center chairman Giovanni Cicione writes: “This was foisted on them without their consent, and these good public servants, many of whom are part-timers and retirees, are being forced to subsidize an organization they do not support and from which they receive no benefits.”

MAIN ARGUMENTS OF JANUS

Mark Janus and the other plaintiffs are asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Abood decision. They argue collective bargaining in the public sector is inherently political, and government unions devote more resources to their political agendas than just the small portion of dues that goes to directly support political candidates or causes.

On its Web page for a similar case covering teachers, the Center for Individual Rights explains, “Whether the union is negotiating for specific class sizes or pressing a local government to spend tax dollars on teacher pensions rather than on building parks, the union’s negotiating positions embody political choices that are often controversial.” Therefore, the plaintiffs say that by being forced to fund collective bargaining, they are being forced to fund political activity they might not necessarily agree with.

MAIN POINTS

  • Government workers would still be able to remain in their unions, and those unions would still be able to collectively bargain. Janus would simply give workers a choice and prevent them from being fired for not paying a union.
  • Giving workers a choice can make unions stronger. Unions would need to prove their worth to their membership, giving members better representation and more-responsive leadership.
  • All collective bargaining by government unions is inherently political. Workers have a First Amendment right not to be forced to pay for political spending they disagree with. Therefore, workers should not be forced to support government unions.
  • Unions should not have the power to get workers fired for exercising their First Amendment rights.
  • While the case would essentially mean right-to-work for public employees across the country, practically it would only apply to the 22 states in which government workers are not already right-to-work and paying agency fees.
  • Only about 20 percent of workers in right-to-work states exercise their rights, so the practical effect of the case will likely only affect about 20 percent of government workers in the 22 states that do not already provide these rights to workers.

KEY DATES

February 26, 2018 — The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Friedrichs case

End of June 2018 — Likely decision by the court

About the Authors

F. Vincent Vernuccio is Director of Labor Policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
Patrick Wright is the Mackinac Center’s Vice President for Legal Affairs Affairs and authored the Center’s two briefs in the Friedrichs case.
The Mackinac Center is located in Midland,
Michigan.