Government Unions Spend Lavishly on Politics

Published September 1, 2005

Government employee unions put much more time, money, and effort into politics than do their private-sector counterparts. One simple measure of this is in the public action committee (PAC) reports unions file with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).

Strict comparison is difficult because almost every private-sector union has some public employee units, and most public-sector unions have at least a few private sector members, but the numbers are stark enough.

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), an almost entirely public-sector union with 1,350,000 members, reported 2004 PAC receipts of $8,931,961. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), with 1,338,625 members, had 2004 PAC receipts of only $2,884,680, a third as much.

The International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), with 256,183 members, reported PAC receipts of $1,479,752 compared to the similarly sized Paper Allied Industrial Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE) with PAC receipts of just $78,885.

Government Unions Carry Clout

Organized labor is well aware of this difference. In May 2001, union publicist Greg Tarpinian, writing for Labor Research Association Online in “Public Sector Workers and Unions Today,” urged private-sector unions to give support to public-sector unions, saying, “Why should the private-sector labor movement care about the challenges facing public-sector unions? Because without the public-sector labor movement, the American labor movement would have extremely limited political clout and resources.”

In the 1950s approximately one of every 20 union members was a government employee; in 2004 it was almost one of every two. The day is not far off when, although only one in seven jobs is with government, more than half of all union members will be government employees.

— David Denholm