Unions’ 2006 Campaign Money Buys Legislative Attention for Big Labor

Published December 1, 2007

The State of Labor 2007 report by the Labor Policy Center of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation notes Big Labor’s heavy investment in the Democratic Party’s takeover of Congress in the 2006 elections has succeeded in buying attention from lawmakers.

The report, released in August, is themed “Unions Demand Political Payback.” It reviews significant developments in the labor movement over the past year, analyzes unions’ involvement in politics and their subsequent demands for payback, and offers legislative solutions to unfair policies promoted by organized labor.

Unions Spent Big

The Service Employees International Union spent $65 million. The AFL-CIO spent another $40 million, organized 205,000 union volunteers, knocked on more than 8.25 million doors, made 30 million phone calls, mailed 20 million pieces, contacted 93 percent of union members with election information, and reached 13.4 million voters in 32 states.

Overall, labor unions spent an estimated $200 million on the midterm elections.

Unhappy with big-spending Republicans and tired of the war in Iraq, voters gave Democrats the majority in Congress along with 351 state legislative seats and six governors’ mansions. Claiming the credit, labor officials were soon demanding political payback.

Union Priorities Get Attention

Grateful Democrats were quick to oblige. On the federal level, four of seven issues in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “100-Hour Agenda” were union priorities. Those measures included raising the minimum wage, requiring Medicare drug price negotiations with drug companies, cutting student loan interest rates, and ending tax subsidies for oil companies.

Democrats tried to pass the so-called Free Employee Choice Act, which would have eliminated secret ballot elections currently used to unionize workers and would instead have implemented a “card check” system that subjects workers to harassment, intimidation, and fraud. The bill passed the House but did not come up in the Senate.

In response to union demands, House Democrats also cut the budget of the agency overseeing investigations into union fraud and corruption.

Since 2000, investigations by the Office of Labor-Management Statistics have resulted in 775 convictions and more than $70 million in restitution to union members. Unions want to hamstring this agency.

States Bolster Government Unions

At the state level, unions continue to work with legislatures and governors to increase the size of public-sector unions, thereby increasing union membership and funds.

Democratic control of Iowa’s House, Senate, and governor’s mansion brought the first serious challenge to that state’s right-to-work law since 1988.

Big Labor’s political investments last year were no anomaly. Having tasted victory, union officials are hungry for more and are preparing to launch a major political offensive to put a Democrat in the White House.

Spending Transparency Needed

Union officials are certain to spend much more on the upcoming presidential elections than they did last year. Much of it will be without the knowledge or permission of union members. Union representatives simply will not tell workers.

Just as workers should not be forced to pay a union for unwanted services, they should not be forced to pay for a union’s politics. The efforts of labor unions to shield themselves from market forces through coercive policies can be countered with several common-sense measures.

States can implement financial transparency regulations such as the federal LM-2 forms that require unions to make public all expenditures of more than $5,000. States also can limit union fees to cover only the costs of representation, not political expenses.

States also can implement paycheck protection, a policy the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled constitutional. Paycheck protection laws require unions to obtain written permission from their members before they can spend membership dues on political causes.

Ryan Bedford ([email protected]) is a labor analyst with the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Washington.

For more information …

“The State of Labor: Unions Demand Political Payback,” by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to http://www.policybot.org and search for document #22164.