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Public Unions and Obscure Election Dates Create a Perfect Storm

Wouldn’t it be great to pick your boss? I don’t mean choose between two competing job offers based on which boss you prefer. I mean that you and your coworkers get together and pick a boss based on who is going to be the easiest to work for: someone who won’t interfere with your work, won’t call you out when you’re acting against the interest of your customers, someone who will sing your praises to the public, and let you work for another organization on company time.

Public sector unions everywhere wield undue power over the elected officials charged with overseeing them. In many states unions dominate every aspect of politics. Right to work laws, and the state culture that created them, are meant to shield Oklahoma from this fate. But when public employees are able to band together and withhold essential services, especially those services they have fully monopolized by virtue of the fact that only government provides them, elected officials have little choice but to cave. This is the central theme of 1889’s latest paper, which not only identifies the problem, but also suggests a solution. 

But there is more to it than our paper reveals. Oklahoma’s ridiculous number of election days creates a system in which very few people turn out to vote in most elections. School boards and municipal offices don’t appear on the November ballots when most Oklahomans expect to vote. They don’t appear on the lower-turnout June primary ballots either, nor the March Presidential Primary. 

Instead, local and school board elections occur in February and April, when people have their attention on anything but exercising the vote franchise. The elections are poorly noticed. The Oklahoma County election board’s website disclaims any responsibility for informing voters about actual voting dates: in spite of the last scheduled election for the year having passed nearly three weeks ago, the board notes that the dates listed on its website are tentative. How is an engaged citizen supposed to know when to vote? Is it likely that the average taxpayer-voter will remember these important local elections? 

You know who rarely - if ever - forgets to vote in local elections? The people employed by school boards and city governments. Public sector unions have an outsized vote in most local elections. They’re paying attention to those voting days. They are reminded to vote every day at work. They know their future pay is determined by the winners of these elections, as are the other terms of their contracts. They turn out in droves to make sure the officials elected are either sympathetic to their cause or too weak to out-bargain them. This, when combined with the power to collectively bargain, the credible threat to strike, and to actually strike, concentrates far too much power in their hands. 

In law, it is taken for granted that no one may be the judge in their own case. Isn’t it equally obvious that no group of employees, especially government employees, should be able to pick their own supervisors? It is important to remember that while public employees are bargaining for their own pay, the people across the table from them, the officials they had an outsized role in electing, are not spending their own money. They are negotiating on behalf of all taxpayers. Isn’t it fair to ensure that all taxpayers have a hand in electing them? 

So, of course Oklahoma should ban collective bargaining by state and local governmental entities, as suggested by the paper. Texas did just that in 1993 - when Democrats controlled its statehouse. Oklahoma should also consolidate election dates and stop allowing unions to act as the people’s overseers, effectively denying our right to vote with obscure election dates.

Mike Davis is a Research Fellow at 1889 Institute. He can be reached at mdavis@1889institute.org. 

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.

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