GOP Governors Trim State Employees' Bargaining Clout

Representatives of organized labor regard these recent actions as part of a trend. They say Daniels and Blunt followed the lead of Republican governors in California, Kentucky, Maryland and Massachusetts, and describe the effort as part of a calculated, nationwide Republican strategy to weaken the Democratic party.

"I think (the governors' recent actions are) a clever disguise to get at what (Republicans) perceive as the political power of the unions, and they perceive the fact that that political power is used for Democrats," said Gerald McEntee, who heads the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the nation's largest public service employees union.

Daniels said state employees' unions were wasting taxpayer money and were a potential obstacle to reform. Jane Jankowski, a spokeswoman for the governor, told Stateline.org Indiana state employees were spending more than 100,000 hours a year on union-related business. Jankowski said Daniels was also motivated to rescind a 15-year-old executive order granting state workers authority to bargain with state government by his campaign pledge to quickly reform state government.

Jankowski said union policies, such as 30-day notice requirements for any government restructuring, would have bogged down reform efforts. Daniels took advantage of of his newfound flexibility to create a new state agency to handle child welfare and child support issues. Indiana's handling of these responsibilities had drawn criticism

Blunt based his action on a philosophical objection to mandatory fees that public service unions levy; he said the fees were unfair to state employees who do not support the union's legislative or political agenda.

Following a practice common in many states, Missouri's state employees' unions fund operating costs through "fair-share fees," money deducted automatically from a state worker's paycheck whether or not the employee is a union member. The fees were authorized by an executive order issued by Blunt's predecessor, Democrat Bob Holden

Blunt's decision was based on the fact that he doesn't believe that state employees should have fees taken out of their paychecks when they're not a member of a union. "People work hard for their money, and they should not have fair share fees taken out of their paychecks for something they do not support or belong to," said spokesman Paul Sloca.

Twenty-five states - Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin have laws granting state workers the right to use unions to negotiate wages, benefits, hours and other working conditions, or bargain collectively in labor parlance. In Indiana and Missouri, these rights were extended through executive order and did not have the force of law.

The federal government has protected the collective bargaining rights of private sector employees since the 1930s, but there is no such protection for state and local public sector employees. The power to collectively bargain is a union's strongest attraction - without it, a union's power is greatly reduced, and membership almost always dwindles.

AFSCME's McEntee called the notion that unions are an obstacle to government reform "absurd"

"We want better public service delivered to the people ... But ... let's sit down and talk about it," he said in an interview with Stateline.org.

McEntee fears that the next step will be efforts in Republican-controlled statehouses to roll back collective bargaining statutes.

Daniels and Blunt are the latest of a number of Republican governors to lock horns with state employees unions.

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is backing proposed initiatives targeting political contributions to organized labor, eliminating protection for union jobs in schools and revamping the pension system for state workers.

AFSCME has accused Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich of violating that state's collective bargaining laws by failing to negotiate upcoming changes to state employees' health benefits.

And in Massachusetts, Gov. Mitt Romney came under fire from union leaders after significantly curtailing the administration of civil service exams for applicants for state positions, except those in the public safety sector.

In rescinding state workers' collective bargaining rights, Indiana's Gov. Daniels and Missouri's Gov. Blunt followed the lead of Kentucky's Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Fletcher voided an executive order giving state workers in his state the right to collectively bargain when he took office in 2004.