Public sector unions have been having a hard time attracting new members lately, particularly in the wake of the Janus decision. (Total union membership hit a record low in January of this year.) This is particularly true in any number of federal government agencies. The American Federation of Government Employees represents many of the union employees in the government and they came up with a clever way to convince more people to join their ranks. When they first arrive to work at their new government job, just cut them a check!

That may sound like a joke, but it turns out that the AFGE has literally been giving new hires a check for $100 if they agree to sign up and join the union. And at least in the Veterans Administration, some people have grown fed up with it. With that in mind, some House Republicans have put forward a bill to bring an end to the practice, labeling it a bribe. (Government Executive)

The VA Workplace Integrity Act (H.R. 4503) would apply only to the Veterans Affairs Department, preventing its secretary from entering into a collective bargaining agreement that offers “financial incentives to prospective members.” The American Federation of Government Employees, however, which represents most VA employees, said the program that prompted the bill is merely a discount it sometimes offers to solicit new members.

The incentives typically come in the form of a check from the union local in the new employee’s workplace, said Andrew Huddleston, an AFGE spokesman, referring to the payments as a rebate program.

The way the AFGE is describing the program is a bit confusing. They’re calling it a “rebate” to help new members who might have trouble paying their dues. But how can you give a rebate to someone who hasn’t paid you anything yet? Wouldn’t this be more of a prebate?

In any event, several Republicans are referring to this as a system of strongarm tactics designed to influence people to join the union. Congressman. Neal Dunn (R-Fla.), who authored the bill, described it this way. “Manipulating new federal employees at the VA to join a union with a $100 bribe as they walk in the door is unethical.”

I would say that the checks are clearly designed to influence people’s decisions, though I’m not quite so sure where the ethical line is drawn here. My real question is what the objection is and on what basis you would ban the practice. They’re clearly not using taxpayer money to pay out these “rebates” to prospective members. The check is cut by the local union office. As the union rep quoted in the article points out, AARP and other organizations regularly do the same thing during membership drives to attract more people.

As regular readers know, I’m not exactly a fan of unions and how they use their dues money for political campaigning, but you really need to pick your battles. And how many people are really going to be sucked into this scheme for a one hundred dollar check? These are government workers at the VA. The lowest salary the new recruits are likely to be getting is at least forty or fifty grand. Is a one-time payment of $100 really going to sway you when the union will then wind up taking a vastly larger total back from you every payday for the rest of your career there?

It just seems unlikely and doesn’t sound particularly illegal. This might not be the best hill to die on legislatively.