Will Trump Administration Punish Iowa for Curtailing Monopolistic Unionism?

Does U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta really think reducing union bosses’ monopoly power over transit workers is bad for the workers? Photo: Copyright Getty Images

For years, U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) bureaucrats have exploited a vague provision in the 1964 Urban Mass Transportation Act (UMTA) to bully municipalities across America. Time and again, DOL functionaries have invoked UMTA Section 13(c ) — now technically referred to as Section 5333(b) of the U.S. Transportation Code — to threaten city and county elected officials if they refused to foist union monopoly bargaining on transit employees.

A June 29 report for KCRG-TV, an ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, suggests this bureaucratic blackmail is continuing during the Trump Administration, despite the current White House’s strongly pro-Right to Work public stance. The story quoted Dubuque City Attorney Crenna Brumwell, who indicated that, after Iowa passed a state law in February curtailing government union bosses’ monopoly-bargaining privileges, her city received an alarming notice from the DOL.

According to Ms. Brumwell, she and her colleagues were warned that the DOL had determined that her state has UMTA “compliance issues.”

This month, the Right to Work Committee will be contacting U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who was nominated by President Trump in February and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in April, to ask if the June 29 KCRG-TV story is correct and, if so, to reverse this policy and rein in the pro-forced unionism bureaucrats that continue to use the DOL as yet another organizing arm of Big Labor.

Without a doubt, Section 13(c) is bad policy. It empowers the U.S. labor secretary and the agency he or she heads to use federal subsidies for urban mass transportation as a stick to intimidate state and local governments into acquiescing to “exclusive” union representation regarding employee pay, benefits, and work rules. For that reason, the National Right to Work Committee has long called for the repeal of Section 13(c).

It is hard to see how this code provision requires any labor secretary to punish states and/or their localities when state lawmakers adopt measures reducing union dons’ unwarranted power over transit workers. And that is exactly what Iowa’s H.R.291, signed into law by then-Gov. Terry Branstad before he resigned so he could serve as President Trump’s ambassador to China, does.

The key provision in H.F.291 strips transit and most other government union bosses of the monopoly power to negotiate benefits and work rules for employees who don’t want a union and choose not to join as well as those who do. For self-interested reason, union bosses often exercise their monopoly power to prevent employers, public and private, from offering employees better benefits at a lower cost and eliminating counterproductive work rules.

It is thus hard to see how H.F.291 amounts to a “worsening” of employees’ positions “related to employment,” which is what 13(c) supposedly prohibits for federally funded transit projects. And the provision itself gives the labor secretary ample discretion to determine what is “fair and equitable.”

According to the TV news account cited above (see the link below for a print version), the Dubuque city attorney was specifically told by the DOL that it is H.F.291 that is the source of the “compliance issues” that may cause Dubuque and other Iowa cities and counties to lose federal money for their public transit. The attorney commented that the city was still waiting to hear about the outcome of the DOL “review.”

Reasonable people may differ about whether or not any federal taxpayer dollars ought to go into state and local public transit operations. But as long as there are federal transit dollars being doled out they shouldn’t be deployed to promote forced unionism.

At at time when multiple states with labor statutes promoting extensive government-sector monopoly bargaining are experiencing severe fiscal crises, it seems perverse for the Trump Administration to penalize states for rolling back union bosses’ special privileges. But Right to Work leaders are hopeful that, ultimately, the DOL will not deploy 13(c) as a weapon against Iowa.

Iowa collective bargaining law impacting transit grant funds – KCRG.com