|While Members Suffer, Unions Waste Millions on Political Campaigns|
By Timothy H. Lee
Thursday, August 26 2010
Today’s labor movement claims to hold its individual members’ welfare paramount. So what message do its leaders send when they opt to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on political campaigns while members continue to suffer very difficult economic times?
This week alone, media reported a coordinated campaign between the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) to spend approximately $100 million on this November’s midterm elections. The AFL-CIO will reportedly contribute $53 million to the fund, although President Richard Trumka said that it would likely commit even more and exceed its 2006 election spending. For its part, the SEIU budgeted at least $44 million for the joint effort, but also indicated its willingness to increase that amount.
This agreement creates remarkable bedfellows, as the SEIU and AFL-CIO went through an ugly public divorce just five years ago when former SEIU leader Andy Stern led a breakaway. Accordingly, their announcement suggests once again that partisan politics take precedence over other concerns within the modern labor movement.
Separately, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME) announced that it will spend approximately $50 million on this election cycle. The AFSCME website claims that “AFSCME members and activists are tireless in our efforts to elect pro-worker candidates and shape public budgets to protect public workers and vital government services.”
“Protect public workers?” That charade seems especially offensive, coming during a period when government employees remain insulated from the layoffs and belt-tightening faced by their private sector counterparts.
Regardless, let’s put that combined $150 million in perspective.
With that money, these three powerhouse unions could make 150 of their members instant millionaires. Or, if they preferred to “spread the wealth around” in accord with the President they did so much to elect in 2008, they could give $10,000 to 15,000 suffering members, or give 150,000 members $1,000 apiece.
How might those 150,000 members vote if asked whether they’d prefer to see $1,000 directed toward their savings accounts versus spendthrift political candidates?
Moreover, the $150 million described above comes from just three unions. According to the Alliance for Worker Freedom (AWF), nine of the top ten political action committees contributing to Democratic candidates are operated by labor unions. Additionally, four of the top five organizations donating to 527 groups are labor unions, according to AWF.
And to what effect? Almost all of those union dollars will flow toward Democrats, who have controlled Congress for four years now. Throughout that time, however, the Pelosi-Reid Congress has failed to pass Big Labor’s holy grail – “card check” legislation that would eliminate the democratic secret ballot during union elections. Now, with Republicans poised to achieve enormous gains and perhaps even regain Congressional majorities, the likelihood of passing card check or other union goals such as additional “stimulus” spending packages is almost nonexistent.
Given that reality, why are unions choosing to waste their members’ hard-earned dollars, when there are so many ways they could alleviate the pain that everyday workers are experiencing? Very simply, because union leaders are out of touch with their ground-level workers’ true concerns.
Nor do union bosses seem to care any more about American taxpayers’ plight than they do about members’ hardships when it comes to their partisan political goals. To illustrate, they’re now pushing federal legislation to dump grossly underfunded union pension plans into the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PGBC).
In other words, labor leaders want a bailout for union pensions.
For decades, union negotiators have steered dollars toward such things as political campaigns and generous pay and benefit packages, rather than responsibly funding retiree pension obligations. Now, with pension obligations climbing and fund assets dwindling, union executives realize that they can’t satisfy the years of promises that they irresponsibly made.
Their solution? Dump union benefit obligations onto taxpayers. That way, union leaders could continue to fight declining membership with promises of unsustainable pay and benefits, while shifting pension responsibility to others. Otherwise, according to a Wall Street Journal reference to a legal group formed on labor organizations’ behalf, unions would face “increased pressure at the bargaining table to decrease contributions and cut benefits.”
Labor unions once served to safeguard individual employees who had little or no bargaining power with employers. Today, however, they increasingly seem to care more about well-paid union executives and liberal political candidates to whom millions of union campaign dollars are directed.
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