Senate Republicans Clash With Dems Over Forced Unionism In Public Universities

Senate Republicans Clash With Dems Over Forced Unionism In Public Universities

Senate Republicans Clash With Dems Over Forced Unionism In Public Universities

With support from the Freedom Foundation, Senate Republicans weren’t fooled by House Bill (HB) 3170 B and stood united on Monday against the legislation that will require more faculty members in Oregon’s public universities to pay union dues against their will.

By changing the definition of “supervisory employee” under state law, the bill extends collective bargaining to faculty members who previously could not be unionized due to their supervisory responsibilities. Most of these professors conduct high-level research with an expectation of academic freedom, which Republicans recognized could be severely compromised by allowing public-sector unions to expand their influence within the university setting.

More than anything, however, Republican leaders were infuriated at the fact that HB 3170 B will allow unions to forcibly extract dues and fees from the professors’ pay.

Not only did every Senate Republican vote against the bill, but Sen. Dennis Linthicum (R-Klamath Falls) led the charge to introduce a “minority report” – a replacement bill – designed to fix the problem.

The Republican version, HB 3170 C, added an “opt in” provision that would have allowed the affected university professors to choose for themselves whether to join or pay fees to a union. It also would have permitted unions to represent only those professors who chose to be dues-paying members. 

In other words, freedom for both employees and unions. 

The minority report failed along a 13-17, party-line vote, with every Senate Democrat voting against voluntary union membership. Democrats then immediately passed their preferred version, HB 3170 B.

Linthicum didn’t mince words afterwards, publishing a strongly-worded press release titled “Dems kill Republicans’ effort to safeguard academic faculty from being exploited by thuggish Unions”:

“Union bosses and their political bagmen are holding up academic faculty to pinch their money. Oregonians are witnesses to a gangster government mugging everyone it possibly can to feed its financial appetite. Senate Republicans will not support stealing rights and stealing money from innocent Oregonians. We must expand workers’ rights in this state, it is a grave issue, and it is only going to get worse.”

The sentiment was echoed in a statement from Sen. Alan Olsen (R-Canby), who also joined Linthicum and GOP leader Sen. Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day) in arguing against compulsory unionism on the Senate floor.

On top of their desire to protect faculty members’ First Amendment right to freedom of association, Republicans pointed out that HB 3170 B, by making collective bargaining mandatory rather than optional, “will increase the administrative and personnel costs for Oregon’s severely underfunded public universities, in turn, further burdening our broken PERS and health care systems. 

To defend forcing the newly eligible university faculty to subsidize union activity, Senate Democrats primarily argued that lawmakers need not disturb the way things have always been done.

They also countered Republican opposition with some half-truths. 

“No one in our university system is compelled to join a union,” said Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland).

Technically true. But then he went on to say “[Nonmembers] need to pay a fee which covers up to a percentage of union dues, and only the percentage that applies to the costs that have been certified to be incurred by negotiating the contract…”

Not so true, unfortunately. While U.S. Supreme Court decisions do allow employees to pay a reduced fee by navigating a burdensome opt-out process, Oregon law requires non-union employees to pay – by default – a representation fee which is “equivalent to regular union dues and assessments.”

The immoral result is that employees – in this case, university professors – can be required to pay full membership fees to a union they don’t even belong to, and to support a cause they don’t agree with.

While Big Labor’s allies had more votes this time around, those Senators who recognized  the problem and stood opposed to Oregon’s entrenched, corrupt system of compulsory government unionism deserve recognition.

Policy Analyst
Ben Straka serves as a policy analyst for the Freedom Foundation. His responsibilities include an array of policy research and reform efforts, primarily centered around labor relations, education and government transparency within the states. In addition, he provides support for the Freedom Foundation’s Outreach program and works closely with the rest of the team to hold local governments and public-sector unions accountable to state residents. Ben joined the Freedom Foundation in May 2016. He is a native of Eugene, Ore., and a graduate of Corban University, where he studied political science and business.