EDITORIAL: Public shouldn’t foot bill for union activities

Public employee unions look out for their members’ financial interests, not those of the public. So why are taxpayers stuck paying the salaries of union leaders who are hostile to them?

After all, unionized government workers pay dues to their unions. For some bargaining groups, those dues bring in millions of dollars per year. Unions have the resources to pay people who do work for the unions.

But why would unions do that when they can make you foot the bill for union activities? You pay public employees for all kinds of “union leave,” from negotiating new contracts — in other words, you pay them as they seek ways for you to pay them more — to attending disciplinary hearings to political activities such as election endorsement interviews. The Nevada Legislature, which convenes Feb. 2, and Gov. Brian Sandoval have the ability to right this wrong. The Review-Journal’s 15th of 25 policy recommendations to the Legislature in 25 days: Banning the use of public resources to compensate government employees for union work.

Some government employees log only a few hours of union work on public time each year. But others are full-time union employees who are fully compensated by taxpayers. Some, such as leaders of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, the union that represents rank-and-file Las Vegas police officers, also receive assignment and shift premiums even though their duties do not involve actual policing.

It’s a sweet deal for bargaining groups because it stretches union dues much farther in paying for expenses such as travel and office space. If union members had to pay the salaries and benefits of leaders and fully cover all union labor costs through their dues, those dues would be much higher. Some members might not consider those dues worth the cost.

Imagine if you had a plumber who only charged you for parts, not labor. You’d be pretty happy with the value of any repairs he performed if someone else covered the cost of his time. But would you stick with him if you had to pay full freight? Or would you look around and see if someone else could do the same job for less?

Thus, publicly funded union work not only subsidizes a private organization, it protects those private organizations from competition. Because members effectively enjoy discounted dues at public expense, they never really know the full cost of the services they receive. If they had to cover the whole bill, they’d ask a lot more questions about where those dollars go. They might even consider seeking representation from another group.

But the most offensive part of this arrangement is forcing the public to pay for a process that inevitably makes government more expensive and less accountable. If a government tries to fire an employee for incompetence or gross misconduct, you pay for his defense. If a government is trying to hold the line on personnel costs, you pay both the management negotiators and the union representatives who want you to pay more.

That’s incredibly unfair — and expensive. Public subsidies for union work squeeze the services governments are charged with providing. We get fewer police officers on the streets, fewer social service workers, fewer nurses, and on and on.

It’s time for lawmakers to end this particular gravy train. If union work is so important, union members can pay for it themselves.