Freedom Foundation

It’s high time for government unions to face re-election

Can you imagine the outrage if our system of government allowed politicians to remain in power indefinitely without any requirement to compete for re-election?

There would be riots in the streets.

Come to think of it, there already are – and that occurs even with the general understanding that our system of government allows voters to select their representatives anew every two or four years.

We often take this liberty for granted, but when we need it, we’re glad it’s there. For people looking to oust the current presidential administration, for example, 2020 can’t come fast enough.

But they can rely on the fact that it will come.

Unfortunately, not all representatives abide by the same democratic standards. In states like Oregon, government labor unions are a glaring exception to the American rule.

Under current state law, government workers can be forced to accept a labor union as their workplace representative with no opportunity to remove or replace it through regular elections.

Here’s how it works:

A labor union seeking to represent public employees in Oregon can be certified by the state Employment Relations Board (ERB) in one of two ways:

  1. An ERB-administered secret ballot election.
  2. A “card check” campaign. If union organizers approach workers in-person and get at least 50 percent of them to sign authorization cards, the union can submit the cards to the ERB and be certified without an election. Because individuals lack the fundamental protection of a secret ballot, this opens the door for a variety of abuses.

Once certified, the union becomes the “exclusive representative” of all employees in the bargaining unit and never needs to seek re-election from those it represents.

Many unions were certified so long ago that literally none of the currently represented employees ever cast a vote for them.

Without regular elections, removing or replacing an unwanted union is extremely difficult. Once every two or three years, employees have a 30-day window during which they can file a petition calling for a “decertification” election. The petition must contain signatures from at least 30 percent of the entire bargaining unit – in some cases, thousands of employees scattered across the state – and will only be accepted if the signatures are obtained during the 180-day period immediately prior to filing.

Needless to say, the difficulty of navigating such an arduous procedure ensures that decertification elections do not happen often.

Can you imagine if Americans could only replace their president by initiating a recall election, and were only given a 30-day window once every four years to do it?

The need for regular union elections is beyond clear. Just as elected officials are accountable to their constituents, so should unions be accountable to the employees they currently represent.

An effective re-election (“recertification”) law for government unions would require the following changes to Oregon law:

  1. Eliminate the undemocratic “card check” procedure, thus protecting employees’ rights to a secret ballot.
  2. Hold periodic union elections, administered by the ERB at least every four years.
  3. Strengthen election procedures, ensuring all represented employees have a fair chance to vote on whether to renew, replace, or remove their union representative.

With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to strike down mandatory union fees with their upcoming decision in Janus v. AFSCME, lawmakers and activists should look to union re-election requirements as the next hurdle in the fight to protect workers’ rights.

No American should be forced to accept a representative – in their workplace or otherwise – without the basic democratic safeguard of regular elections.