A bill is making its way through the Missouri Senate that would allow government workers to hold their union representatives accountable through regular elections. Unfortunately, the bill’s fiscal note—an estimate of how much this bill will cost—overstates the cost of these elections.
If the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DOLIR)—the agency tasked with managing government union elections—had examined Wisconsin, another state that has a law like this, they may have seen how the agency would have been able to conduct elections with existing resources.
Instead of looking to Wisconsin, where similar elections are already held at no additional cost to taxpayers, DOLIR estimated that it would have to hire at least 21 new employees and 760 temporary elections officers to physically conduct each election. According to DOLIR, these elections and new hires would cost $1.5 million to $2.7 million a year. While $2 million is not a huge portion of a multibillion-dollar budget, it is a significant amount to most of the people paying for it, especially when DOLIR could eliminate that cost altogether by following Wisconsin’s lead.
The Wisconsin Employment Relations Council (WERC) holds union elections at no cost to the taxpayer. This cost savings is possible for two reasons: First, WERC contracts out with a respected arbitration company, the American Arbitration Association, for its union elections. In these elections, workers vote through telephone or the Internet using a secure ID number, rather than a traditional paper ballot. This service has been used successfully in Wisconsin for a couple years now, providing convenient, low-cost union elections to government workers. Second, WERC charges a filing fee to a union seeking election. The filing fee is administered on a sliding-scale basis, charging more to larger unions and less to smaller unions, and is enough to cover the cost of elections. Because of these two smart moves by WERC, Wisconsin began holding elections for state workers in 2013 without increasing WERC’s staff or its impact on the state budget.
Why didn’t DOLIR look to the practices of other state agencies when estimating the cost of these elections? That seems like the first thing you’d do when estimating the cost of a new government practice. I don’t know why DOLIR screwed up so badly. I do, however, know that government union elections can be an inexpensive and reliable way to protect our government workers’ voices when it comes to their unions and professional associations.