If the Democratic Party wants to play class warfare, then by all means let us play that game. But, let’s put all the facts on the table and nowhere are those facts more obvious than when it comes to public worker unions. At the federal level, the average salary is $72,000 compared to the national average of slightly over $50,000. Throw in the lucrative pension and health care plans exacted from government over the years and there is greater disparity. And the same holds true for public worker unions at the state and local level. In fact, one needs to consider that state obligations to union pension plans alone total over $1 trillion nationally, and is it any wonder that states with this fiscal disaster staring themselves in the face would attempt to address the problem by exacting concessions from unions? However, Democrats and labor portray this as a war on the worker or an attack on the middle class. Are government workers making over $100,000 annually the “middle class” they supposedly are fighting for? Perhaps this explains why Republicans have made great gains at the state and local levels of government in recent years- their willingness to take on the public worker unions and cease or put the breaks on fiscal calamity perpetuated by Democrats beholden to organized labor.
Some have argued that there was once a pro-union wing of the GOP as recently as 1976. In that year, candidate Ronald Reagan had “chosen” as his pre-convention running mate Richard Schweiker who had a 91% approval rating from the AFL-CIO at the time. Perhaps this was a clumsy effort by Reagan to bring two widely disparate factions of the Republican Party together on a national ticket. But, something changed along the way and that was a clearer articulation of a conservative principle- less government is better government. In fact, this became a theme of Reagan’s candidacy four years later and there was no Richard Schweiker even considered along the way. Once private sector union members dropped below a certain level, there was no need for a pro-union wing of the GOP and their numbers within the Republican Party are few and far between today.
Nowhere is government more bloated than in its bureaucracy. If one decreases the bureaucracy, one necessarily decreases the number of bureaucrats. If an increasing number of these bureaucrats are Democrats beholden to organized labor, then the number of unionized government workers increases. Thus, it is in the best financial interests of unions to support the political party most likely to increase its ranks. With more unionized government workers paying more union dues, a self-perpetuating cycle of political influence results. The final result is as one observer put it a new Tammany Hall.
Something had to stop this and that person was Ronald Reagan soon after his swearing in in 1981. In that year, he put a halt to a strike by unionized air traffic controllers. This action was widely applauded by most Americans and was the first inkling that the public was turning against organized labor, later confirmed by their declining numbers nationally.
Given the reaction to Reagan’s action then and knowledge of the disparity among wages of public union members and the average Joe, organized labor turned its attention to the local and state levels because it is easier to gain influence at those levels of government. For example, it is much easier for a local teacher union to support a school board candidate who favors pay increases for its member. School board elections are notoriously low turnout affairs and those that do vote base those votes on personal attributes of the candidate, not their views on fiscal issues concerning teachers. At the municipal level, years and years of voting in pro-union Democratic candidates in Detroit turned a blind eye to needed fiscal reforms. The same could be said of any major urban center in this country where there existed a Democratic Mayor. One need look at the cities considered in worst financial shape in this country other than Detroit. Chances are there is a Democratic series of mayors supported by pro-union Democratic Governors at the time At these local and state levels dominated by union-backed officials, there is little push back for necessary reforms until some critical point is reached.
Is there any wonder there was such an outcry when Rick Snyder in Michigan and Scott Walker in Wisconsin signed right-to-work legislation into law recently? This was not support for the working man occupying the middle class; this was a reaction to reform of a financially unhealthy status quo. If otherwise- if unions are the answer to supporting the middle class- then union membership would have increased in the private sector in Michigan in the decade leading up to Snyder’s action in Michigan. But it was declining as public worker union membership was soaring under his predecessor, a Democrat, in a pro-union state like Michigan.
And despite the mass demonstrations in the streets of Madison, Wisconsin instigated and propelled by organized labor (including many non-residents of Wisconsin), what have been the results of Scott Walker’s “attack on unions and the middle class?” When Walker assumed office, the unemployment rate in Wisconsin was 7.4% versus 4.6% today (below the national average of 5.5%). Labor force participation rates stand at 67.9% and 69.1% of residents of working age have a job. Although that number has declined 1.7% during Walker’s tenure, nationally the trend has been much worse. While average worker pay check totals have shriveled under Obama nationally, they have increased double the national average and median household income is up 2.7% in Walker’s Wisconsin versus 1.3% in Obama’s America. And consider this fact which totally defies organized labor’s attack on right-to-work legislation: in an era when private sector union membership is in serious decline in the United States, private sector union membership in RTW states has increased 0.5% compared to a 4.6% decline in union-friendly, non-RTW states. Why? Because if there is one thing workers like it is…well, work and jobs. The reality of Walker’s reforms flew in direct contradiction to the false propaganda organized labor fed residents of Wisconsin. And it will likely fly in the face of the same propaganda spread by unions in Michigan who promised to come after the law with all guns blazing. Recently, those guns never contained bullets because the Michigan Supreme Court upheld the law last month.
After Scott Walker announced his candidacy for President, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka called Walker a “national disgrace.” He more forcefully stated a view that Hillary Clinton more timidly expressed a day before. In light of economic facts one has to question who the real national disgrace is: Richard Trumka, or the Democratic candidates seeking political office that lay prostrate and cowering before organized labor and a dying phenomena?
Not that Republicans are not, at times, immune from this tendency. Take the example of a Norwegian low-fare airline that was denied access to the United States market and never granted air rights. That effort was led by Congressman [mc_name name=’Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’C001092′ ], a Republican. In fact, there were 32 GOP co-sponsors of that legislation. This airline, which had no accidents, would have created competition in US to Europe airline traffic where fares would have averaged $150 one-way. The purported concerns were that they were using pilots from Singapore and Taiwan (OH! the horror). They were also accused of other transgressions like having their headquarters in more tax-friendly Ireland than Norway (again- the horrors). The biggest beneficiary would have been the American consumer. Would you pay an average $800 or $150 to fly to Europe one way? Of course, 26 of those 32 Republican co-sponsors received campaign donations totaling $212,000 from the airline pilot’s union with Collins getting $7,000 himself. It may not be corruption, but it certainly is hypocritical phony capitalism and government favoritism.
If union patronage and spouting union propaganda should have no place in the politics and agenda of the Democratic Party, then phony capitalism and government favoritism for the sake of both should have no place in Republican politics nor their agenda. Politically, the GOP does not need the support of organized labor since they are a dwindling segment of the voting public. But, they certainly need the votes of the average tax payer who looks around and sees government workers having a lifetime pension and health care benefits along with a healthy salary. They certainly need the votes of people who want a job but find it difficult to enter the labor force because of organized labor and once they do, have deductions from their paycheck to go to causes with which they disagree. This alternate vision of America is the vision of people like Richard Trumka, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. It is a vision that is failing America today and which they want to double down on despite economic facts. They are living in the era of the late 19th and early 20th century America and trying to force those ideas on an America that looks nothing like that era. Whether it is fighting right-to-work status at the state level, or card check legislation to swell union ranks (and dues), or even radically increasing the minimum wage to $15, these are the ideas of Clinton and Sanders. Its not even their ideas, but that of union talking points. Not only are they hypocrites and old cronies of organized labor, they fail the originality and the reality tests.