A solution to the free rider problem
Union leaders grumble when non-members get union perks; here’s a way out.
As a result of the Janus decision in June 2018, workers are no longer forced to pay any money whatsoever to a public employee union as a condition of employment. While teachers and other government workers were freed from paying union dues or fees, they were not, however, liberated from forced representation by the union, which is still is prevalent in most states.
But now, the Buckeye Institute has announced it is filing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in Reisman v. Associated Faculties of the University of Maine. Professor Jonathan Reisman, an economics professor at the school, was previously a member of the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine, but decided to leave the union over political disagreements with its state and national affiliates – the Maine Education Association and the National Education Association. Now, Dr. Reisman is trying, to free himself from compelled union representation. Should he succeed, many others will then be sure to follow.
The unions traditionally have complained that they are forced to represent all workers during collective bargaining and ridiculed any non-payer as a “free rider.” But in reality, it is the competition-phobic unions that are the problem. No law forces the responsibility of exclusive representation on the unions – in fact, the unions themselves demand it. As Mike Antonucci explains, “The very first thing any new union wants is exclusivity,” whereby “no other unions are allowed to negotiate on behalf of people in the bargaining unit. Unit members cannot hire their own agent, nor can they represent themselves.”
Okay, you ask, “But why would anyone want to go it alone? Doesn’t a union get its workers a better deal through collective bargaining agreements (CBAs)?”
The answer is no, not necessarily, and the reasons are many. “Wage compression” occurs when the salaries of lower paid teachers are raised above the market rate, with the increase offset by reducing the pay of the most productive ones. “Why strive to become better if I am not going to be compensated for it?” is the attitude of many. Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute takes it one step further, claiming CBAs hurt the bottom line of all teachers. According to Petrilli, “Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers – $64,500 on average versus $57,500.” Petrilli’s study was from 2011, and research from Michael Lovenheim in 2009 and Andrew Coulson in 2010 bore similar results. UC San Diego professor Augustina Pagalayan reported in 2018 that CBAs do not improve teacher pay.
Researcher and education policy expert Greg Forster writes that collective bargaining is not a good fit for k-12 teachers. “Teachers are like doctors and lawyers. Standardizing the work they do into a one-size-fits-all mold creates major headaches for them.” CBAs demand standardization, “so processes and outputs can be specified in labor-management negotiations.”
It’s worth noting that CBA’s also hurt students. “The Long-run Effects of Teacher Collective Bargaining,” a 2018 study by researchers Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willen, found that, among men, exposure to a duty-to-bargain law in the first 10 years after passage depresses students’ future annual earnings by $2,134 (3.93 percent), decreases weekly hours worked by 0.42, and reduces employment and labor force participation.
The Lovenheim-Willen study was not the first to detail CBA’s harm to students. In 2007, Stanford professor Terry Moe reported that collective bargaining “appears to have a strongly negative impact in the larger districts, but it appears to have no effect in smaller districts….”
Caroline Hoxby, Professor of Economics at Stanford University, made a three minute video in 2009 in which she explains in plain language how CBAs stifle any management flexibility in determining the best slot for a teacher at a given school, as well as denying schools the opportunity to get rid of underperformers.
It’s time to end the union monopoly and give workers choices. Maybe I want to negotiate for myself, or hire a lawyer to represent me. Or maybe I even want to join a rival union. Hopefully, SCOTUS and Professor Reisman will prevail, and thoroughly liberate all workers from the clutches of the Big Union monopoly.
If nothing else, Dr. Reisman and subsequent independents will not have the “free rider” label thrown at them. They’d be “forced riders” no more, but rather liberty-minded folks who want to be in control of their professional life. Here’s hoping!
* * *
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.