Union power grab enters overdrive

The extraordinary union power grab underway at the State Capitol is breathtaking, especially in light of the prevailing trend of Midwest states enacting positive, taxpayer-friendly collective bargaining reforms. The Minnesota power grab is perhaps best exemplified by, but unfortunately not limited to, the attempted unionization of independent childcare providers and personal care assistants (PCAs) that unions are ramming through the legislature. The proposal is the culmination of a years-long organizing campaign by AFSCME and SEIU, who are seeking to "represent" childcare workers and PCAs respectively.

From day one, controversy and strong-arm tactics marred the union’s campaign. According to numerous accounts by childcare providers, door-to-door union organizers have used misleading and intimidating tactics in order to gain signatures of support for AFSCME. In fact, an AFSCME vice president and founding organizer of the childcare union has since renounced the scheme over AFSCME’s "unethical tactics".

Unfortunately, similarly strong arm tactics are now being employed by some of AFSCME’s allies in the legislature.

Prior to a recent committee hearing on the childcare union legislation, the bill’s sponsor declared that no testimony would be heard during the meeting. However, when the hearing began, the legislator proceeded to invite an AFSCME organizer to testify in favor of unionization, while barring testimony from the countless childcare providers who cherish their independence and vigorously oppose the union’s power grab.

The hardball tactics employed by the union and liberal legislators may be distasteful, but they make a certain amount of sense, at least after reviewing campaign finance records.

Between 2010 and 2012, AFSCME spent a minimum of $2.04 million in Minnesota to elect liberal state legislators and statewide candidates, including Governor Dayton. AFSCME was one of the largest contributors to Dayton’s recount effort, donating $125,000. And in 2012, AFSCME paid for numerous independent campaign expenditures on behalf of legislators who are now sponsoring their forced unionization bill.

That may help explain why Dayton and liberal legislators continue their push despite overwhelming public opposition. But why is AFSCME hell-bent on unionizing these daycare workers in the first place? Perhaps because AFSCME, despite boasting steady membership of over 39,000 government employees and tens of millions in annual dues, desperately needs a bailout.

In fiscal year 2012, AFSCME Council 5 was the only Minnesota labor union to report negative net assets to the US Department of Labor. Recent filings by the union show negative net assets of $7,553,202 compared to $7,074,991 just one year earlier. The vast majority of liabilities are post-retirement benefits for union organizers.

AFSCME’s financial woes are also due to a lack of support from their rank-and-file. Compared to other government unions in Minnesota, AFSCME has a remarkably high percentage of "fair share" fee payers. These are individuals who have opted against full union membership, but are nonetheless forced under Minnesota law to pay up to 85 percent of full union dues. Remarkably, nearly 1 in 4 workers represented by AFSCME Council 5 have opted to pay "fair share" dues in lieu of formally joining the union. And the "opt out" numbers are growing: "fair share" payers grew from 21.0% (8,187 out of 38,963) in 2010 to 21.4% (8,162 out of 38,164) in 2011 and 23.5% (9,185 out of 39,042) in 2012.

Solution: Boost membership and revenues with a "nontraditional" organizing drive aimed at unionizing independent business owners, namely childcare workers. Unfortunately for AFSCME, it’s been a tough sell.

staggering 86 percent of licensed childcare providers oppose unionization. Only 5 percent support it. So AFSCME and the legislature devised a brilliant plan: rig the union election. By expanding the group of eligible voters to include unlicensed providers, and by dramatically lowering the "public support" threshold for AFSCME to meet, legislators have set the stage for a sham election. Unfortunately, even sham elections have consequences. In this case, thousands of independent small business owners will be forced to pay for a union they never requested and do not want. It is coercive, exploitive, and disgraceful. Unfortunately, at the State Capitol, that is now par for the course.

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