3-3-14 – Sen. Joe Benning: The Union Label

by Senator Joe Benning (R-Caledonia-Orange)

Every Sunday when I was growing up we’d head off after church to my grandparents’ house for family dinner.  Gathered around the table in a scene reminiscent of “The Waltons,” we children listened as the adults debated issues of the day.  My grandmother was a great cook, so over eating was easy as the discussion flowed.  Many times I’d shuffle away from the table stuffed silly, as my grandmother would inevitably say: “Your eyes were bigger than your stomach!”

For over fifty years that fondly-remembered phrase has served to remind me that we tend to ignore obvious consequences when we become too enamored with something.  I could hear my long-deceased grandmother’s words last week as I listened to the debate over Senate bill 316, a bill authorizing unionization of early childcare workers.

Now let me make two things perfectly clear.  First, I support the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain as a fundamental right in American affairs to prevent against workers being wrongly taken advantage of.  Second, a quality early education for our children is imperative if America has any chance of remaining a competitor in a global marketplace.  So why does this bill have me reaching for the Alka-Seltzer?

For starters, the bill is a rather odd hybrid.  Covering only owners of small, mostly family-owned businesses that have state-subsidized children, it does not cover large day care centers.  It does not authorize unionization of workers; but rather only business owners whose clients have a state subsidy.  This bad precedent invites doctors who take Medicaid patients, lawyers who contract for public defense work, as well as any other business owners who receive state money as independent contractors, to seek the union label.

Pro-union forces argue they just want “a seat at the table.”  I strongly suspect they’d really prefer more money and, given their paltry income, one can hardly blame them.  But this bill does not authorize bargaining for wages; it only enables bargaining for increases in subsidies paid to select parents of children they care for.  There is no guarantee this state, already over-stretched financially, would increase subsidies.  Even if it did, there is no guarantee any increase would outweigh the cost of new union dues.  And who should benefit from that increase, the poor parent or the business owner?

The anti-union forces argue they don’t make enough as it is and want nothing to do with paying union dues.  They thoroughly object to payment of “agency fees” if they don’t join the union.  Agency fees force nonunion workers to pay a portion of union dues, ostensibly for the purpose of helping the union bargain on their behalf.  This bill permits such fees.

This bill has other consequences.  Some who object to the union have made it clear they will no longer accept children who are subsidized if forced to pay agency fees.  Should the union actually gain some increase in parent subsidies from this over-taxed, over-stretched state, the likelihood of any amount trickling down to dramatically improve the lives of children is pretty remote.  The only clear winners here are those union officers who are guaranteed new union dues and agency fees.  Yes Grandma, I can still hear you.

Sen. Benning is a Republican from Lyndonville, Vermont.  He currently serves as the Senate Minority Leader.

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