- - Thursday, August 1, 2013

Union members in Wisconsin are voting with their feet, abandoning the organizations that promised to best represent their interests. Scott Walker, the brave Republican governor, took on the public-employee unions in a noisy high-stakes struggle, with sit-ins and noisy rallies in an attempt to recall him, and won. He thumped his Democratic opponent and settled the issue by six points, and in a deep-blue state. Common sense is a nonpartisan virtue. With the courts having liberated them, many thousands of public employes are enjoying the freedom of choice.

Teachers, firefighters and police officers can continue paying union dues and have union representation, if that’s what they want, or they can tear up their union membership cards without losing their jobs. The rejection of union membership in similar struggles against force is mirrored in cities and states across the country.

An analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that unions have lost between 30 percent and 60 percent of their members. Membership in District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, for example, declined from 9,000 members to fewer than 3,500. The trimmed membership rolls mean less money for the union bosses. Local 48’s budget once reflected a $7 million surplus, and now the union is $650,000 in the red. The national union was required to bail out the local, and it’s not even a stimulus.

Wisconsin does not yet offer workers in the private economy the freedom to reject forced union membership, but other states are moving to do so. A right-to-work law took effect last year in Indiana, and a similar law became effective in March in Michigan. That’s good news for employees who want to keep all of their paycheck, not so good for the unions and their officers.

Michigan, once one of the most unionized of all the states, saw union membership decline from 671,000 to 629,000, and in Indiana, union membership dipped from 302,000 to 246,000. This pattern will likely continue. The National Education Association, the largest teachers union and one of the most partisan of all unions, lost nearly 7 percent of its members between 2008 and 2009. To avoid taking a hit in the union treasury, the union bosses raised the dues of the remaining members. According to numbers compiled by the Education Intelligence Agency, 44 state NEA affiliates have reported losing thousands of members.

Union officials are looking to the government for relief. Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO who criticized his predecessor, John Sweeney, for spending too much time and money on politics, has changed his mind in the face of the new reality. He has organized what he calls a “permanent campaign” to influence government to do what the unions want.

Dependence on government coercion is a doomed strategy, as the union bosses are learning to their rue. Rather than persuade members that their dues are well spent, they’re trying to coerce members to stay, like it or not. As states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana lead the way, rank-and-file union members realize they’re not getting much in return for their dues. More and more of them will demand the right to choose.

The Washington Times

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