Linda Chavez
The vote in Wisconsin to limit public-employee bargaining rights is a decisive turning point in American politics. On Wednesday, Republican state senators passed a stripped-down version of pending legislation to limit collective bargaining without a single Democrat present in the chamber. Democrats may challenge the vote in court, but for now, it looks like a huge defeat for public-employee unions.

Did Wisconsin Republicans overreach? It's too early to tell, but public opinion polls are not going in their favor right now. A New York Times/CBS poll found that 60 percent of Americans oppose weakening public employees' bargaining rights, while Rasmussen reports that 52 of Wisconsin voters oppose such efforts.

Nonetheless, public-employee unions are not particularly popular with the public -- they're not even all that popular with private-sector union members. Rasmussen, for example, found that 44 percent of Wisconsin voters in private-sector union households think that public-employee unions have too much power.

The Wisconsin bill does not -- as critics claim -- take away collective bargaining rights, but it does limit them. The bill requires public employees to vote on union representation every year and to pay their dues directly to the union rather than having them deducted by the state employer. It also restricts certain public-employee unions from bargaining over benefits and other non-wage issues, and it limits pay increases from exceeding changes in the consumer price index. If Republicans are going to win over the public on this issue, they will have to do a better job explaining their position.

First, Republicans should emphasize choice. Individuals should have the right to choose union representation -- but in many instances, unions are a bigger impediment to choice than employers are. The Wisconsin bill would put the issue of representation to state employees on a yearly basis -- which may be too frequent. But shouldn't employees have the right to vote on the issue at some point in their careers?

Once a union has been certified to represent the employees, future workers are excluded from ever deciding whether they still want union representation unless they win a decertification election. And the rules to decertify the union are stacked against employees who want change. They can occur only during limited windows in the union contract and, in most instances, require at least 30 percent of workers to sign a petition asking for a decertification election, which can be intimidating in a union shop.

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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