Linda Misja is a teacher in Pennsylvania. Part and parcel of being a teacher, dues are held back from her paycheck and remitted to the Pennsylvania State Education Association- a state affiliate of the NEA. Ms. Misja is also a Christian with sincerely held beliefs who is fighting the PSEA and has $2,000 held in escrow over union dues and what is done with them. She objects to the fact that the union uses some of their funds for political advocacy in support of liberal causes and candidates with whom she disagrees. The PSEA does allow a religious exemption, but they object to her insistence that her dues be directed towards a pro-life group and the NRA. Linda Misja’s “crime” is that she is a conservative and a Christian who believe in life and is pro-gun rights. It is examples like this which illustrate conservative objections to unions. The Left portrays conservative animosity to organized labor as being anti-worker, or pro-business. It is what drives their entire agenda in this area and is why Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley tout unions as the primary means to address income equality. While they are so adept at advancing “choice” in certain areas, when it comes to unions they are anti-choice. One needs to question why the PSEA even contributes to abortion advocates in the first place. Is this the role of a union that represents teachers?
In Pennsylvania, over 36% of the money collected through union dues from teachers is used for political advocacy and often in areas and for candidates that have nothing to do with educational issues. From 1990 to 2010, the NEA contributed vast sums of money with 93% of those funds going to Democrats in a profession where only 43% of teachers are registered Democrats. That organization takes in an estimated $295 million in dues from its members with the remainder- about $46 million- coming from Leftist foundations and organizations. In any given year, the NEA spends over $25 million on lobbying efforts and $65.5 million on candidate contributions. That translates into over 30% of their annual budget going to political causes and candidates, many of which teachers do not necessarily support. For example, in 2004 George W. Bush received 38% of the union vote according to exit polls yet John Kerry, his opponent, received 95% of the contributions from the NEA. How this reflects the wishes of the unionized worker or how this reflects choice is mind boggling. One poll revealed the following about unionized workers: 66% disapprove of the practice of political advocacy with 89% wishing to know how their dues are spent and 69% who wished their union would cease the activity of political endorsements.
Of course when we talk of unions and politics, inevitably the names Rick Snyder and Scott Walker come up in a negative light on the Left. To them, they are union busters and puppets of the Koch brothers or ALEC. Their reforms in Michigan and Wisconsin were directed at the public worker unions, not private sector unions. Given the fact that the number of public worker union members surpassed the number of private sector union members, it is obvious that organized labor led a concerted effort to unionize in this area to counterbalance the losses elsewhere. It is also why as the economy slowly shifts from manufacturing based to service sector based labor is going after that segment of worker also through SEIU.
Being ignorant of history, organized labor has lost sight of the reason for their existence and need in the first place. Unions arose in earnest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their purported reason was fairness whereby workers would receive a reasonable share of a company’s profits. But any level of government is not a company, nor should it be run like one. Governments do not make profits and distribute them between labor and shareholders; they only assess and collect taxes. It is why there is a built in incentive for governments to pay relatively better wages to their employees. Some of the greatest names in the early and later union movements were vocally against unionizing public workers. Franklin Roosevelt, no enemy of labor, also argued forcefully against it.
That all changed in 1958 when Robert Wagner, in a cheap way to gain political support, advocated unionizing public workers in his New York City mayoral campaign. Four years later, President John Kennedy, through executive order, allowed federal employees to unionize. Local and state government workers soon followed. As a result, AFSCME- a major public worker union- is today arguably one of the richest, strongest and most politically active unions in the United States along with another public worker union- the NEA.
To illustrate their clout, amid a devastating recession in 2009, federal worker pay increased 2.9% compared to 1.5% for the remainder of the economy. Today, federal employee wages average $72,000 per year- almost $22,000 higher than the national average. This is achieved through political advocacy and campaign contributions. Opensecrets.org notes that in the last decade, eight of the top ten political donors and 15 of the top 20 are unions. Unions like AFSCME and SEIU have affiliates in every state and are politically active in all 50 states. The strategy of organized labor is obvious. There is a direct and distinguishable correlation: as the use of strikes and work stoppages has declined, the influence of union money in politics has risen.
Organized labor is one of the most vocal opponents of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. They support overturning the decision through whatever means necessary including amending the Constitution. Such talk has infiltrated into the talking points of people like Sanders and Clinton. But that is rank Leftist hypocrisy. Citizens United leveled the playing field when unions and organized labor has a clear advantage as the statistics from Opensecrets.org illustrate. They are not decrying the influence of money in politics; they decry the presence of conservative money in politics.
And this is behind their accusations that Republicans and conservatives are against unions. Grover Norquist at the 2014 CPAC gathering noted that with 14 million unionized workers in the United States (7.2 million being public workers) and an average annual dues payment of $500, this translated into a $7 billion Democratic slush fund for politicians. Is it any wonder Democrats grovel at the feet of union presidents? Are they really committed to organized labor, or are they committed to union donations? Still, they decry the influence of the Koch brothers whose spending on candidates pales in comparison to union money in politics. If we accept the Left’s assertion that money in politics has a corrupting influence, then we cannot selectively ignore union money as they wish. If some magical law came down tomorrow that totally prohibited campaign contributions and campaigns were publicly funded, unions would be the first at the gates crying foul and invoking their First Amendment rights. If, as they argue, a corporation is not a “person” in the eyes of the law, then neither is a union. They cannot have it both ways, yet they insist the opposite. That is called hypocrisy and unions are some of the most hypocritical organizations in existence (not to mention racist and sexist).
They are also fighting a losing cause. As their membership declines (thus their revenue stream), they have lost serious battles in places where they once held great power and sway. States like Michigan and Wisconsin have passed laws which are proving vexing for organized labor. Despite the economic advantages of right-to-work status (to be discussed in part 2), they insist this is an organized conservative, Koch brother or ALEC-led assault on the rights of workers. Now backed into a corner given the significance of events in Wisconsin and Michigan, they are acting like cornered animals and use misinformation, propaganda and most importantly money to lash out. If it was not so serious, it would be comical. Because as the actions in those states clearly illustrate, the most important players in this drama- voters and tax payers- see unions as the problem, not the solution. That is one reality organized labor cannot overcome and the single most important factor that drives the conservative agenda, not a disdain for unions or workers.