Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Union Shakedown

Linda Chavez:

Unions represent the largest source of unregulated--in some cases, illegal-- money in politics today. Not only did unions contribute $90.1 million directly to the Democrats in 2000, they also spent $46 million in a grassroots’ effort to mobilize Democratic voters, registered 2.3 million new union household voters, made 8 million phone calls and distributed $14 million leaflets in the workplace, but they also spent untold millions for paid union staff to work directly in Democratic campaigns.

Most of this money comes directly out of the dues of union members—usually without their permission or even knowledge. Some estimates put the amount unions spend each election cycle in the range of $500-800 million. It’s almost impossible to know the exact figure because unions do not have to disclose in any detail how they spend their money (unlike publicly traded corporations, which have to release detailed financial statements and abide by strict auditing rules). What’s more, most unions don’t pay taxes on that portion of their dues spent on politics, even though they are required by law to do so. The National Education Association, the nation’s largest and one of the wealthiest (almost $350 million in revenues in 2002), claims it spends zero on politics, yet the NEA maintains a staff of 1,800 political operatives, more than the combined staff of the Democratic and Republican National Committees combined.

This year, the unions will spend even more than they did in 2000. The AFL-CIO has committed some $44 million to a “beat Bush” effort. One New York City local of the Service Employees International Union has pledged $35 million to defeating the president—not one penny of which will be spent in New York, where the union’s members live and work, because New York is safely in Kerry’s column.

Much of the reason for this increased political activism among the unions has to do with the changing composition of the labor movement itself. While unions have been losing members overall over the last five decades (from a high of more than one third of all workers in the mid-1950s to only about 13 percent today), public employee union membership is sharply on the rise. Less than 10 percent of workers in the private sector belong to unions, but almost 40 percent of government workers do. The shift to government workers in the unions has also accelerated the unions’ leftward lurch, especially under the leadership of AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, who proudly proclaims his membership in the Democratic Socialists of America. Under Sweeney, the AFL-CIO has largely abandoned its social conservatism and staunch pro-defense views.

There's more! Read the whole interview.


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