Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Meet and confer, promulgate and rescind.

Until the National Labor Relations act is rescinded and common-law freedom of contract restored, your narrator is an opponent of unions and unionization. Unions as we know them, under the current legal regime, are oppressive and exploitative. Nevertheless, in the week or so since news of Jan Brewer's executive order repealing Janet Napolitano's eleventh hour establishment of a "meet and confer" unionization process for State employees, I've tried to make sense of Brewer's rationale, and have concluded that her case is somewhat weak.

It'd almost have been better if Brewer had said "we're repealing this because it was an eleventh-hour regulation." That sounds a bit childish at first, but it could be made respectable were Brewer to turn it into a governing principle, i.e. to say "and I expect my successor to rescind any executive orders I make in such a fashion." Instead, Brewer claims that Executive Order 2008-30 would expose the State to legal claims by unions for "fair share" expenses from non-dues-paying members. That's not prima fascie nonsense, but the Arizona Court of Appeals (Division 1) has found, in AFSCME Local 2384 v City of Phoenix and the City of Phoenix Employment Relations Board (CV 04-0766) that Article 25 of the Arizona Constitution prohibits such a claim. It's possible that one of the public sector employees' unions could bring the case again in a different appeals court division and take it all the way to the AZ Supreme Court, but is it likely? Read the court's opinion, and consider that U.S. state courts have invariably found "agency" or "fair share" fees incompatible with right-to-work laws. Moreover, in Napolitano's scheme, the unions aren't really representing the workers in contract negotiations, anyway, so even if unions in Arizona could claim agency fees, they can make no such claim based on participation in the "meet and confer" process alone.

The bombast in the rest of Brewer's order is equally silly. Meet and confer doesn't establish a "precedent for mandatory unionization", let alone send us down a slippery slope toward "deprivation of essential public services."

That having been said, there are a few good reasons to cheer the quick rescinsion of "meet and confer". While the representation process established by Janet Napolitano doesn't require that state workers be represented by outside membership organizations (unions) it seems designed that way. Napolitano's order is poorly crafted, calling an organization the workers' "duly elected representative", without any condition on what person actually meets with the director of an agency. Nothing precludes the workers from electing themselves to be represented by the "committee of the whole" and to simply send one of their number, selected by vote or lot, to the meeting, but it's rather obvious that this was designed to give labor unions--major Napolitano contributors--a place at the table without cost to the worker. Moreover, the "meet and confer" procedure established democratic elections, winner-take-all affairs, as legitimate means for worker representation. It'd have been better simply to require agency heads to hold quarterly open meetings to hear about morale, cost-efficiency, budget strategy, and employee safety from any workers who'd care to attend.

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