Unions are hijacking our democracy

Matt Patterson Executive Director, Center for Worker Freedom, ATR
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Big Labor is desperately trying to save besieged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Over 150,000 union members and their affiliates are working for Reid’s reelection throughout Nevada, a massive coordinated effort between the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees Union (SEIU), and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), among others.

Labor’s heavy hitters have even been deployed, including AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who has himself stumped for Reid, telling supporters, “If we’re going to keep our champion …We’ve got to fight for him.” Unions have also brought their incredibly large checkbook to bear: The SEIU alone has allocated $725,000 to help ensure Reid’s return to the United States Senate.

Unions are spending like their very existence depends on liberals holding on to power in the U.S. government — which it does. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), in fact, “has spent more than any other outside group this election,” according to Vincent Vernuccio, Labor Policy Counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. In the 2010 election cycle, the AFSCME has given nearly $90 million, “almost exclusively to left-wing candidates,” says Mr. Vernuccio.

(Unions have long operated as little more than liberal re-election slush funds.  In the 2008 election cycle, labor unions spent a combined and whopping $400 million to elect their pet liberals, who could be counted on the vote for union-friendly legislation like card check and ObamaCare.)

It is a sign of the times that a public sector union like the AFSCME is now the biggest outside campaign contributor. Public sector unionization has exploded — last year, for the first time, more union members worked for the public than for the private sector. The AFSCME is a prime example — while many private unions have seen their membership plummet in the last decade, the AFSCME’s ranks have swollen 25 percent.

The reason is simple: Unions have realized that government is the only growth sector around these days. Government unionization offers two key advantages over private unionization. One, taxpayers can be leeched dry long after your average private company will have gone belly up under the crushing weight of lavish union strong-armed pensions and benefits. And two, public unions, by campaigning to put favored politicians in office, literally hand pick their own bosses, i.e., those who they will be bargaining with for higher salaries and benefits. These politicians can surely be counted on to be suitably grateful.

And liberal politicians have indeed repaid their union masters handsomely. Not only with bloated public pensions that are bankrupting entire states — California, New Jersey, and Maryland, to name but three of the most troubling examples — but, as Michael Barone recently noted: “The February 2009 stimulus package contained $160 billion in aid to state and local governments. This was intended to, and did, insulate public employee union members from the ravages of the recession that afflicted those unfortunate enough to make their livings in the private sector.”

Under these conditions, it is no exaggeration to say that the public sector union/liberal politician alliance constitutes a corrupt bargain that enriches both parties at the expense of the American taxpayer, an unholy arrangement that threatens both the economic well-being of our nation and the integrity of our representative institutions.

If unions fail on Tuesday in their desperate battle to save their favorite political pets like Harry Reid, an opportunity may present itself for the nation to re-think the legitimacy, and legality, of government-worker unionization.

Matt Patterson is senior editor at the Capital Research Center.