Right-to-work laws prohibit workers from being forced to join a union, pay union dues, or pay union representation fees. For unions, right-to-work laws mean they have to actually fight to retain customers – no more guaranteed income.
But with most unions, fighting for customer retention doesn’t mean lowering membership fees or increasing services. It means pressuring lawmakers and slighting members. This was recently on full display in Michigan.
In December 2012, the Michigan legislature passed a right-to-work law, despite the unions’ vehement opposition and protests at the Capitol necessitating riot squads. With the law set to take effect on March 28th, thousands of teachers were looking forward to being free of the union. But the union had one last trick up its sleeve.
Before the law could take effect, the union rushed to execute an unprecedented 10-year union contract that has now forced Michigan teachers to make payments to the union until 2023. In short, for these teachers, it will be as if the right-to-work law had never been passed.
In response to allegations of unethical behavior, the union’s representative said: “We operate under the laws of the land. They could have moved to make these laws take immediate effect. They did not do that.” In short, the union saw the writing on the wall and, rather than entice members to stay, chose to force them to stay under penalty of termination.
Arizona’s legislature has a bill before it now that would strengthen Arizona’s right-to-work laws by requiring public workers to annually opt-in before the government would remove union dues from workers’ paychecks. It’s a worthy objective. But because it affects the unions’ bottom lines, the unions have pulled out all the stops to oppose it.
Unions claim their opposition is all about members, and this has made some legislators apprehensive. But the Michigan incident is just the most recent evidence of one important fact that lawmakers should consider: unions are businesses, and businesses will always fight to protect their financial interests.
The Washington Examiner: Teachers say union cheated on first test of Michigan Right-to-Work law
The Arizona Republic: Darcy Olsen: Bill would stop unions from raiding paychecks
Arizona State Legislature: SB 1142
With a population of 14,500 and a location south of Yuma, until recently I had never even heard of Somerton, Arizona. Yet, this tiny town serves as one of the best examples of what financial transparency by the government ought to look like.
In 2010, the Arizona legislature passed a law sponsored by Representative Steve Montenegro that required all local governments in Arizona to begin posting financial transactions online by January 1, 2013. Shockingly, nearly every one missed the deadline.
Somerton posts all of its individual transactions, with a few redactions for privacy, using an Excel spreadsheet web application. Citizens can drill into general fund spending, spending that occurs out of Highway User Revenue Fund monies, special districts, and other sources of funds. Even individual charges on a credit card are posted.
Doug Bradley, the town’s finance/admin services director, came from the private-sector and realized that managers needed this detailed information and that citizens deserved it. Unaware of the law, he implemented the system entirely on his own accord.
Although the “why” of many of Somerton’s transactions is not clear, this is a relatively minor flaw compared to the outright non-compliance of most local governments in the state, including our biggest cities. Citizen activists should start asking questions of their local governments about when they expect to get their required information online. And, any government that needs a starting point should look to Somerton to learn a lesson or two as they begin to comply with the law.
Goldwater Institute: Piercing the Fog: A Call for Greater Transparency in State and Local Government
City of Somerton: Somerton at a Glance
Arizona State Legislature: HB 2282 (2010)
The automatic spending cuts that have been enacted at the federal level – the “sequester” – have generated concern and outrage in some quarters. Breathless press releases from the White House and trade association groups that may receive slightly less federal money than they did last year have permeated the media reporting.
It’s important to put these reductions into perspective. The reductions amount to no more than 2.5 percent of the federal budget. Arizona will still receive around 99 percent of what it received last year for programs like health, education, and welfare. Hardly an existential threat.
One sector of Arizona’s economy may be hit a little harder than most: our aerospace and defense-related industries largely reliant on Pentagon contracts, some of which may be cut back. These industries make up 6 percent of Arizona’s economy and, at the high end, estimates show the defense cuts could translate to $2.3 billion economic loss to the state.
This sounds scary; but we will survive. Between 2007 and 2010, Arizona lost $11 billion in state gross domestic product. That’s almost five times bigger than this potential loss. And the economy has already recuperated about 80 percent of that loss over the last two years.
While you hate to see anyone lose a job in today’s tough economy, you probably shouldn’t assume the defense job losses will be permanent. Defense and other federal spending will still climb in future years and many of those jobs will likely be restored, perhaps even regardless of whether the spending that finances them is needed or not.
Our real problem is an economy that is more concentrated in a few specific industries, often dominated by a small number of large companies, than is probably prudent. To protect themselves in the future, states with economies like this should eliminate the subsidies and favoritism that permeates tax and budget policy so a more vibrant and diversified economy can bloom.
Cato Institute – The Sequestration Cuts in Perspective
Phoenix Business Journal – Sequestration consternation: Some think it’s all blown out of proportion
Greater Phoenix Economic Council – Press release announcing GPEC’s pre-sequestration analysis of Arizona’s defense industry
A recent article in Time magazine by Steven Brill documents the enormously high prices we pay in this country for health care, including the markups and significant profits of “nonprofit” hospitals. For example, M.D. Anderson marked up an anti-cancer drug some 400 percent. Stamford Hospital billed an individual $8,000 for a test that Medicare would have reimbursed at $600. Blood tests are often marked up by more than 1,000 percent over verifiable costs. Brill’s article is 28 pages long and includes dozens of examples.
This brings up some important questions. Shouldn’t the focus in health care policy be aimed at understanding why health care costs so much? Wouldn’t the answer determine the right policies to pursue? If we bring down costs, wouldn’t many of our concerns about the cost of care and access to insurance be addressed?
Brill concludes, correctly, that there is no true health care market. He’s incorrect, though, in his belief that the nature of health care keeps one from forming. In reality the heavy hand of government stops a health care market before it can start. From licensing regulations that raise costs and limit competition, to the income tax policy that encourages employer-provided health insurance and keeps us from being informed and inquisitive consumers, to Medicare and Medicaid, which cause millions of Americans to treat health care as if it were free, the lack of a market in health care results from short-sighted government policies.
One policy worth pursuing is Arizona’s Senate Bill 1115 which would require disclosure by doctors and hospitals of cash-pay prices to patients who ask. This regulation on hospitals and doctors, who have a highly-privileged place in a highly-regulated industry, is hardly onerous given that if they were in a real market, they’d have to reveal prices and compete for business. This small step towards making more information available to consumers is the least policymakers can do.
Goldwater Institute: Nonprofits in Health Care: Are They More Efficient and Effective?
The Atlantic: How American Health Care Killed My Father
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