"All Politics is Local" - How Deeply Unions Have Penetrated American Politics

When the late Thomas “Tip” O’Neil coined the phrase “All politics is local,” there were some who ignored this now-famous adage (to their peril) and others who took heed and put it to use.  One political entity that has put the “all politics is local” adage to use is the U.S. labor movement.

It is only within the last few years that many Americans have begun to realize the amount of influence unions have on every level of American politics—from the election of President Barack Obama to the election of state legislators and even town councils.

In New York, Pennsylvania, as well as other states, for example, unions have taken over town councils who have, in turn, passed so-called Responsible Contractor Ordinances which effectively discriminate against small, non-union contractors, pushing publicly-funded local construction projects (like schools and libraries) to the unions:

Local construction unions have created what they call a “responsible contractor ordinance” (RCO).  They promote RCO’s allegedly to protect taxpayers from contractors who are unqualified or who have not adequately trained their employees.  While portions of the RCO’s are reasonable, the portions dealing with training preclude virtually all open-shop contractors from working on public construction projects.  The sole purpose of these ordinances is to insure that only union contractors are permitted to work on public construction projects.

In Ohio, where unions have given current Governor Ted Strickland nearly $1.5 million over the course of his career, in addition to his dismal record, Ohioans have had to pay the price of Strickland’s appointment of union boss Richard Murray to the directorship of Ohio School Facilities Commission who is

…under investigation for forcing school districts to utilize anti-competitive project labor agreement (PLA) schemes that funnel lucrative school construction contracts to unionized contractors and union labor after these special interest groups have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Strickland’s campaign.

One very recent example of how unions have muscled their way into state politics occurred this past week in Maryland. To further their infiltration of that state’s government, the SEIU spent “hundreds of thousands” of dollars working to defeat some Democrat incumbents who had crossed the purple behemoth.

SEIU Local 1199, which represents 9,000 registered nurses and other health care workers in Maryland and the District of Columbia, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the successful effort to unseat Della in Baltimore, Sen. Rona Kramer in Montgomery County and Sens. Nathaniel Exum and David C. Harrington in Prince George’s County.

The group also helped an ally, Sen. Nancy King of Montgomery County, fend off a challenge from Del. Saqib Ali in a fight that became one of the nastiest in the state.

The union supports increasing the minimum wage, expanding access to health care, increasing spending on education and establishing bans on smoking. Members have also supported raising revenues to pay for their ideas, backing the unpopular millionaire’s tax and a so-far unsuccessful increase in the state’s tax on alcoholic beverages.

“We don’t have permanent friends, we have permanent interests,” Local 1199 political director Patricia Lippold said. “Sometimes you need to change friends, and the Senate is really where we felt we needed to make some change.”

And, when unions (like the SEIU) launch a fight, as Americans are beginning to learn, they are aggressive, offensive, and they fight to win, sometimes at-all-costs:
Harrington crossed SEIU when he was a county councilman. He said the group dropped five glossy negative mailers on his campaign in the final days, while funding half a dozen positive pieces for his challenger, Del. Victor Ramirez, plus radio advertisements and volunteers to knock on doors.

“We just couldn’t compete with that,” Harrington said. The longer-term effect, he said, will be to intimidate other senators.

Can legislators look objectively at issues when SEIU has played such a critical role in shaping who gets into office and who doesn’t?

The answer, of course, is “NO.”

With yearly revenues of an estimated $25 or more billion coming from both public and private-sector union dues, unions are a dominant (and intimidating) force in American politics.

Until Americans realize how deeply unions have penetrated nearly every facet of American politics, union bosses like those at the SEIU will continue pushing policies that lead to discriminating against small business owners and their employees simply for being union-free, as well as pushing for more job-killing policies like higher taxes.

While many Americans are just beginning to realize how unions have come to rule their political life, some think that the issue may resolve itself after one or two election cycles.  However, the retaking of America from the hands of union bosses will take years.  It will take vigilance and activism.  And, it will take coordination in Getting Out the Vote.

As Tip O’Neill said: All politics is local.


“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.”  Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776

For more news and views on today’s unions, go to LaborUnionReport.com.

The Concord Project