Last week’s Democratic presidential debate broadcast flooded the airwaves with more than just partisan finger-wagging: the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), one of America’s largest unions, spent $200,000 on two new anti-Walmart ad spots criticizing the company’s treatment of its workers.
The ads themselves were forgettable — just the latest PR stunt in the union’s (failed) multi-year campaign to unionize the world’s largest retailer. But their airing during the Democratic debate was a useful reminder that the politics of UFCW’s leadership don’t necessarily match its membership.
Consider the stark dichotomy between how union members vote and how union bosses spend. Exit polls show that about 40 percent of union households vote Republican, yet UFCW almost exclusively gives to Democrats and left-wing causes. The union spent roughly $7.5 million on political activities and lobbying in fiscal year 2014, while its PAC dished out $2.3 million in campaign contributions in the 2014 election cycle — 99 percent of that money went to Democratic campaigns.
This is not a surprise when you consider what Marc Perrone, president of UFCW, tweeted back in June: “I can’t vote for Republicans and I won’t support them.”
A new Union Facts analysis of UFCW financial disclosures proves that he’s a man of his word.
The union sent $706,600 to Catalist, a data harvesting firm serving Planned Parenthood and state Democratic parties from Maine to Texas. One writer called the firm “Obama’s database for fundamentally transforming America” because it provided voter data to the President’s 2012 campaign.
UFCW also disguised large swaths of political spending as “Representational Activities”—which amounted to $56.1 million overall, or over half of all 2014 expenditures. This includes $347,348 to Berlin Rosen Public Affairs, the consultancy that has helped elect the likes of Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Bill de Blasio—and is the Oz behind the curtain of recurrent fast food “strikes.”
270 Strategies, a campaign strategy firm “honored to serve President Obama,” received $62,633 in 2014. Blueprint Interactive, a digital media firm, was awarded $52,205—it runs anti-Republican attack ads on behalf of Planned Parenthood and Sierra Club.
Union members, meanwhile, never consented to stuff the pockets of big-money Democratic consultants.
Now, there would be nothing wrong with UFCW funding left-wing politics if its 1.3 million members agreed to it. But, the nearly 40 percent of union households voting Republican didn’t sign up to be President Obama’s personal financiers.
Fortunately, there is legislation before Congress that rectifies this injustice. It’s called the Employee Rights Act (ERA), a new bill introduced by Sen. [crscore]Orrin Hatch[/crscore] and Rep. [crscore]Tom Price[/crscore] which updates American labor laws for the 21st century. In 2014, it was co-sponsored by more than 130 members of Congress.
The ERA would require union bosses to explicitly obtain opt-in permission from their members before they use member contributions on Democrats and left-wing causes those members might not support. In doing so, the bill would guarantee workers’ basic right to refrain from sending dues money to politicians without affirmative consent.
Before UFCW bigwig Marc Perrone feigns compassion with six-figure ad buys, he should take a long, hard look in the mirror: His high-dollar handouts to political allies are precisely what’s holding employees hostage from a more democratic workplace.
The ERA would finally set them free.
Richard Berman is the executive director at the Center for Union Facts, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that fights for transparency and accountability in America’s labor movement.