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Kansas Bill Looks to Install Annual Referendums on Teachers' Unions

A Kansas state senator hailing from the suburbs of Kansas City is spearheading a charge to require teachers to vote annually on whether they want their unions to continue representing them, reports The Topeka Capital-Journal.

Under the bill, if a local union doesn't get 50 percent of votes in the affirmative, it "shall no longer be recognized and the professional employees shall be unrepresented." Teachers could reorganize but it couldn't be with a union that is "substantially similar to or affiliated with" the one that was voted down.

The bill would result in more than 300 elections across the state, costing more than $340,000 a year, at a time when the state is facing a gaping budget hole. Current state law already allows for this kind of recertification election if 30 percent of teachers sign a petition.

Republican Sen. Jeff Melcher of Leawood says he wants to give new teachers a voice, "so they can make their thoughts known as to whether they want to be represented by the [National Education Association] or someone else."

Melcher argues this will make the state's teachers' unions—the majority of which are affiliated with the Kansas Education Association and the National Education Association—more responsive to the concerns of current members:

"The way it works right now, we just have perpetual representation. My hope is by having these frequent elections they'll better understand what their members really want."

This isn't a new idea. Wisconsin has been requiring annual recertification votes for public-sector unions since 2013, as part of Gov. Scott Walker's controversial Act 10. In Wisconsin, 51 percent of all workers eligible to be in a union must vote yes for a union to survive, so not voting essentially counts as a "no" vote. According to the anti-union John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, which has been tracking these elections, the votes have led to the demise of over 100 unions, including the substitute teachers union in Appleton, the teachers' union in Elkhorn, and the union representing engineers in Milwaukee Public Schools.  

James Sherk, research fellow in labor economics at The Heritage Foundation, made the case for these elections back in 2012:

"Unions represent employees in the workplace, but most workers never chose their union. The overwhelming majority of workers accepted union representation as a condition of being hired at a unionized firm. They inherited the union that their predecessors voted for decades earlier. Just 7 percent of private-sector workers voted for their union. An even smaller portion of government employees chose their union. For instance, virtually all of the teachers who voted to unionize Kansas's largest school districts in 1971 have since retired. The current teachers did not choose their representative. Inherited representation encourages unions to put their interests first--at the expense of the workers they ostensibly represent. Congress and state legislatures should require unions to run for re-election, or allow workers to designate their own bargaining representative. Workers should not be forced to accept a union's services."

Back in Kansas, last week, Melcher's bill passed out of the Senate Commerce Committee largely unchanged.

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