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PRANDONI: Choosing worker freedom over unions

Americans are fleeing heavily unionized states

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 20, 2010

States looking to increase their population, gross state product, revenue and prosperity should look to implement legislation that leaves their labor market free and flexible. The states that have been the most successful at luring new workers and businesses have been states with low levels of union density; union success is predicated on policy that hamstrings state economies and businesses.

In an effort to illuminate states' labor policies and the merits of federalism, the Alliance for Worker Freedom has released its second biennial report, the Index of Worker Freedom: A National Report Card. The index is a state-by-state comparative study that measures worker freedom through an analysis of policy implications as well as quantitative state data. The goal of the index is to provide readers with a 30,000-foot view of every state's labor climate.

One of the key findings from this year's index was the negative correlation between a state's union density and its level of worker freedom. States in the top quintile of worker freedom had levels of union density 41 percent lower than the national average and 55 percent lower than states in the bottom quintile.

Unsurprisingly, workers and employers are fleeing states with low levels of worker freedom - generally heavily unionized states - in favor of states with high levels of worker freedom. States ranked in the top quintile of worker freedom saw their populations grow 51 percent faster than the national average and 149 percent faster than states in the bottom quintile in the 2008-09 period. These two metrics - population growth and union density - are key indicators of a state's level of worker freedom.

The makeup of America's labor movement has changed, with more than 50 percent of all union members now working for the government at some level. With an increased incentive for bigger government, public unions' ability to influence sympathetic state legislatures has only been magnified by this demographic shift.

Paralleling the index's findings, Gallup found for the first time in more than 80 years that a majority of Americans now think "unions mostly hurt the economy." The inherent collectivist nature of unions, in which workers' preferences are secondary to union goals, and the means by which unions attain those ends, are increasingly frustrating Americans.

Unions' main weapon of coercion - the collective-bargaining agreement - enables a union to negotiate a worker's contract for him, negating his preferences regarding his wage, vacation time or retirement plan. In states that do not have right-to-work statutes, unions can mandate membership as a condition of employment. Once hired, workers are forced to contribute a percentage of their income to the union in the form of monthly dues. In a majority of states, unions are free to spend workers' dues on political candidates their members may oppose. Organized labor's defined-benefit pension plans punish workers who leave a union; they receive only a portion of what they contributed to the retirement account.

With the American people renouncing labor's oppressive practices, unions see the writing on the wall. Looking to trump state policy, the labor movement and its Democratic allies are attempting to enact federal legislation and leave every state looking like California or Rhode Island. Removing competition among states, as big labor intends to do, leaves workers little incentive to relocate, effectively reducing each states' worker freedom to the least common denominator.

These ominous words are no exaggeration. In the next few days, the Senate will vote on the House-passed version of the war supplemental appropriations bill, legislation that inexplicably includes language that forces states to bargain collectively with public-safety employees - police officers, firefighters and emergency personnel. In 2007, the House passed the union-coveted Employee Free Choice Act, which would coerce millions of workers into unions by effectively removing secret-ballot elections and would allow for a partial government arbitrator to decide union-employer disputes.

Earlier this year, President Obama issued Executive Order 13502, requiring all federal construction projects that cost more than $25 million to hire union shops. The executive order leaves the door open for state projects receiving federal funds to be subject to the same union-only mandates.

These policies handed down from Washington are the manifestation of big labor's plan to trample on states' rights and institute catchall legislation. The index looks to preserve the 10th Amendment by highlighting the benefits of a federalist system, a pro-worker system that necessitates competition and choice.

Christopher Prandoni is the executive director of the Alliance for Worker Freedom.

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