Freedom Foundation

Senate Democrats Call Bill Allowing Public Employees to Vote Out Mandatory Union Dues “Undemocratic”

Legislation giving public employees the ability to deauthorize mandatory union dues in their workplace has passed out of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on a party-line vote.

State law authorizes union security provisions in public employees’ union contracts. The provisions require all employees in the workplace to pay union dues or be fired.

Introduced by Sen. Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard), SB 5045 would require the Public Employment Relations Commission to hold a vote about whether to keep a union security provision whenever 30 percent or more of a bargaining unit submits a petition calling for an election.

The three Democrats on the committee, all former union officials, voted against the legislation, with Sens. Bob Hasegawa and Steve Conway assailing the legislation as “undemocratic.” All four Republicans voted in favor.

Sen. Hasegawa (D-Seattle) spoke against the legislation, calling it, “totally undemocratic and anathema to national labor policy.”

As the Freedom Foundation testified at an earlier hearing, the bill is based on the 80-year-old National Labor Relations Act, which governs private-sector union workers. Other states, including California and Oregon, have already copied the federal deauthorization process into their laws governing in-state public employees.

All told, Freedom Foundation analysis indicates that three-quarters of union workers nationwide are employed in states and sectors in which either (1) union security provisions are banned entirely, or (2) employees may deauthorize a union security provision in their contract.  

Hasegawa stated further,

“I see no problems with anybody ever voting in a union contract election or certification election for voting out the union security clause. That happens on a regular, timely basis just like any democracy. If you don’t like it, you vote it out.”

Unfortunately, Hasegawa was either confused or simply wrong about how government unions function. Unlike our political democracy, unions need never seek the approval of the workers they represent after being initially certified. Many public employees in Washington have never participated in a union certification election and simply inherited a unionized workplace.

The burden of calling for a certification election falls on employees, who face an uphill battle simply to call for an election to change or decertify their union. And as one unionized government employee who testified in favor of the legislation pointed out, there is currently no mechanism for employees to eliminate the union security clause short of decertifying the union entirely.

Nevertheless, Sen. Steve Conway (D-Tacoma) echoed Hasegawa’s concerns, calling the legislation “anti-democratic” and arguing “that it does go against the clear principle of America of majority rules.”

Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia) pushed back, stating, “This is about giving union workers more opportunity to participate with their union in the workplace… Certainly I would challenge the claim that this bill is somehow undemocratic.”

In addition to the Freedom Foundation, five current and former union members testified in support of SB 5045. Two union lobbyists testified against it.

Video of the senators’ comments from the hearing is available below.