Disunion in Minnesota's labor movement

Over the last few years, an upstart independent public employee union has quietly gained membership and established itself as an alternative to the most powerful unions in the state. The Minnesota Public Employees Association (MNPEA) currently represents dozens of bargaining units across Minnesota, primarily in law enforcement. The union was founded in 2011.

One thing that sets them apart from other “traditional” public employee unions is the ostensibly apolitical nature of their sales pitch to prospective members. They have sought to differentiate themselves from AFSCME, Teamsters, and others by pledging not to waste dues money on divisive political endorsements or negative political campaigns. MNPEA seems to be having some success. In the past 18 months, MNPEA has won at least six union elections in which they were directly competing with AFSCME or Teamsters.

Consequently, some of the state’s most powerful labor unions have quietly waged war against this relatively new and lesser-known competitor, trying to have the state Bureau of Mediation Services declare that MPEA is not a legal union.

The Teamsters union and AFSCME in particular have pursued legal and regulatory maneuvers to thwart MNPEA’s growth and influence.

As the Freedom Foundation reported recently, AFSCME Council 5 has struggled to retain membership in recent years, and a growing percentage of the workers they represent are non-members who pay “fair share” fees. The union lost over 2,000 (or 6.4 percent) of its full dues-paying union members over the last five years, while the number of workers opting out of union membership jumped almost 16 percent. These workers are still required by state law to pay a so-called “fair share” fee to AFSCME, but cannot be charged more than 85 percent of full union dues for that representation. Statewide, one of every four AFSCME workers has now rejected union membership.

And the appeal goes beyond politics. By sticking to the core services of collective bargaining and legal representation, and by remaining independent of any national or international unions, MNPEA offers substantially lower dues and a transparent dues structure. The union has guaranteed that dues will be $39 per month through at least 2016, approximately half of what many public employees in Minnesota pay.

According to MNPEA Director Mike Golen: “The main difference is that we only endorse candidates if 70% or more of our members are in agreement. We report relevant information concerning political impact on their jobs to our members and let them decide who they want to support and/or vote for like adults. We don’t badger them with endless phone calls and mailings, wasting their dues money and time. Our members consider such behavior on the part of unions to be intrusive and insulting to their intelligence.”

Golen also wrote: “One of the things big unions aren’t telling their members is how many paying members they have lost in Right –To-Work States. For example in Wisconsin [after enactment of Act 10,] AFSCME went from over 50,000 paying members to under 15,000! AFSCME wants to blame conservatives for their condition. NO! It’s the lack of service and the high monthly dues that are the downfall of big unions.”

Ironically, AFSCME has attacked MNPEA for allegedly “duping our colleagues into signing ‘interest cards’ which are actually authorization cards deviously used to trigger an election. Under the guise of collecting people’s names and contact info for purely informational reasons, MNPEA has used these signed cards to file for an election. Countless brothers and sisters, now learning that their signature and name was used improperly are demanding their cards be returned to no avail.” As you may recall from AFSCME’s childcare unionization campaign, AFSCME itself been accused of doing the very same thing.

This is not an endorsement of MNPEA or any other government union. Indeed, any system that allows employee organizations to serve as an "exclusive representative" and collect compulsory union dues is an affront to individual and economic freedom.

But the emergence of groups like MNPEA, and the apoplectic response it's elicited from "traditional" Big Labor stalwarts including AFSCME and Teamsters, is a sign that government employees are dissatisfied with their union dues being spent to support a leftist political agenda.

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