Commentary

Virginia’s Attorney General Goes to Bat for Big Labor

Stan Greer
By Stan Greer | May 16, 2018 | 4:16 PM EDT

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) (Screenshot)

A quarter-century ago, then-Democratic Gov. Doug Wilder signed into law H.B.1872/S.B.962, legislation that prohibits all collective bargaining between government union officials and public employers in the state of Virginia.

Consequently, teacher, firefighter, and other government union bosses in the Old Dominion, unlike their counterparts in most other states, may not legally wield so-called “exclusive” (monopoly) bargaining power to negotiate with government entities over civil servants’ pay, benefits, and work rules.

The outright ban on public-sector collective bargaining adopted in 1993 had overwhelming bipartisan support, passing the Virginia House by a 78-21 margin and the Virginia Senate in a 31-3 vote.  Both chambers were controlled by Democrats at the time.

Along with H.B.1872/S.B.962, Virginia’s Right to Work law, first enacted in 1947 and amended to furnish explicit protections for public employees in 1973, is a pillar of state labor policy.  It safeguards each worker’s personal freedom to hold a job without being forced either to join or pay dues or fees to a union.

Why, then, did Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) recently cosign a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court contending that “exclusive” union bargaining “supported by [forced] agency fees can be an indispensable tool to … foster efficiency in government workplaces”?

It certainly wasn’t because there is any meaningful evidence that compulsory unionism fosters government efficiency.  In fact, the exact opposite is true.   

Using aggregate state personal income data for 2017 as reported by the U.S. Commerce Department and 2018 state-and-local tax burden data for the 50 states collected for and published on the WalletHub financial web site, the National Institute for Labor Relations Research has calculated the average state-and-local tax burdens measured as a share of income for the 22 forced-union-fee states and for states that have adopted Right to Work laws.

The Institute estimates that this year residents of forced-unionism states are forking over 9.9 percent of their total personal income in state-and-local taxes, a 23 percent higher share than the Right to Work state average!

Another recent WalletHub analysis finds that Right to Work Virginia ranks 5th among the 50 states for the return taxpayers get on their money.  By comparison, the nation’s two largest forced-unionism states, California and New York, rank 48th and 46th, respectively.

Neither a desire to defend his own state’s prerogatives nor a dispassionate review of the facts can explain Herring’s willingness to go to bat for Big Labor in the High Court’s still-pending Janus case, in which Illinois civil servant Mark Janus (whose counsel of record is National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorney Bill Messenger) is challenging the constitutionality of forced union dues and fees in the government sector.

 

But nearly $1.25 million may have been reason enough. That’s what Herring has racked up in reported campaign contributions alone from Big Labor.  And Herring is just one of 49 federal, state and local politicians who signed on to Janus petitions defending government union bosses’ forced-dues privileges after having gratefully accepted campaign cash donations from the union hierarchy.

According to FollowTheMoney.org, a project of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, these 49 politicians have collectively benefited from about $22.1 million in reported contributions from Big Labor.

Under Virginia law, union-boss state politicians like Mark Herring can accept out-of-state Big Labor contributions that come directly out of union treasuries laden with dues and fees that workers are forced to pay as a condition of employment.

In federal campaigns and in some state campaigns, forced union dues may not be directly contributed to candidates.  But union political operatives can and do use them in all types of campaigns to pay for phone banks, get-out-the-vote drives, propaganda mailings, and other so-called “in-kind” support for candidates.

Essentially, then, Mark Herring and his cohorts are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to help government union bosses continue extracting forced dues from civil servants so that Big Labor can continue siphoning off a portion of the conscripted money into efforts to keep politicians like Herring in office.

As this is written, no one, except perhaps the nine justices and their clerks, knows how the High Court will respond.  But the fact that such a brazen request is even being made is noteworthy.

Stan Greer is senior research associate at the National Institute for Labor Relations Research. NILRR’s website is www.nilrr.org. He is also editor of the National Right to Work Committee’s newsletter.

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