Faced with growing budget deficits and restive taxpayers, elected officials from Maine to Alabama, Ohio to Arizona, are pushing new legislation to limit the power of labor unions, particularly those representing government workers, in collective bargaining and politics.
State officials from both parties are wrestling with ways to curb the salaries and pensions of government employees, which typically make up a significant percentage of state budgets. On Wednesday, for example, New York’s new Democratic governor, Andrew M. Cuomo
, is expected to call for a one-year salary freeze for state workers, a move that would save $200 million to $400 million and challenge labor’s traditional clout in Albany.
But in some cases — mostly in states with Republican governors and Republican statehouse majorities — officials are seeking more far-reaching, structural changes that would weaken the bargaining power and political influence of unions, including private sector ones.
For example, Republican lawmakers in Indiana, Maine, Missouri and seven other states plan to introduce legislation that would bar private sector unions from forcing workers they represent to pay dues or fees
, reducing the flow of funds into union treasuries. In Ohio, the new Republican governor, following the precedent of many other states, wants to ban strikes by public school teachers
Some new governors, most notably Scott Walker of Wisconsin, are even threatening to take away government workers’ right to form unions
and bargain contracts.
In the 2010 elections, Republicans emerged with seven more governor’s mansions and won control of the legislature in 26 states, up from 14. That swing has put unions more on the defensive than they have been in decades.
But it is not only Republicans
who are seeking to rein in unions. In addition to Mr. Cuomo, California’s new Democratic governor, Jerry Brown
, is promising to review the benefits received by government workers in his state, which faces a more than $20 billion budget shortfall over the next 18 months.
Many of the state officials pushing for union-related changes say they want to restore some balance, arguing that unions have become too powerful, skewing political campaigns with their large war chests
and throwing state budgets off kilter with their expensive pension plans
In an internal memorandum, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. warned that in 16 states, Republican lawmakers would seek to starve public sector unions of money by requiring each government worker to “opt in” before that person’s dues money could be used for political activities
Of all the new governors, John Kasich, Republican of Ohio, appears to be planning the most comprehensive assault against unions. He is proposing to take away the right of 14,000 state-financed child care and home care workers to unionize
Mr. Kasich also wants to eliminate a requirement that the state pay union-scale wages to construction workers on public contracts
, even if the contractors are nonunion. In addition, he would like to ban the use of binding arbitration
to settle disputes between the state and unions representing government employees.
The A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s internal memo warned labor leaders, “With the enormous losses in state legislatures around the country, we will face not only more attacks on working families and their unions — we will face more serious attacks, particularly in the formerly blue or purple states that are now controlled by a Republican trifecta.”