dc37pickets-150x150-5764507“Are Unions Democratic?” For that matter, is the Pope Catholic? Is water wet? Do bears … well, you get the point. But the title of Daniel DiSalvo’s new paper for the Manhattan Institute poses the question in a different sense: not referring to organized labor’s partisan proclivities but to the way the public-sector unions run themselves, and to the implications this has for public policy.

So, are government unions democratic? DiSalvo’s answer: “only superficially.” Turnout in union elections is often below 20 percent (even lower, at least slightly, than the turnout for the 2013 New York City mayoral election); the voters are skewed to older members focused more on retirement benefits than wages; incumbents go unchallenged for long periods an often anoint successors; and unions, especially at the state and national level, take positions with which most of their members disagree.

His proposed remedies:

1. Require unions to publicize electoral procedures and report election returns. In particular, unions should report the names of the candidates for various offices; whether members voted in person, by phone, electronically, or postal mail; and the number of members who voted, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage.

2. Require unions to adopt online voting systems, thereby eliminating cumbersome barriers to voting (such as traveling to the union hall to cast a ballot); improving transparency; speeding the dissemination of election results; and reducing the costs of holding elections.

3. Stop requiring union members to pay for advocacy that they do not support. Specifically, public-sector unions need to formalize their political decision-making by holding referenda to gauge their members’ policy preferences more precisely. The results of these referenda should be made public.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

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