For the first time in U.S. history, the majority of the country's union members work for government, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. For the cause of limiting the size of government, the implications of this development are ominous. Because they depend on the growth of government to increase their membership over the long term, government employee unions function as a permanent lobby for bigger government -- one that is organized, motivated and well funded. As Brian Johnson of the Alliance for Worker Freedom notes in The Washington Times:
There once was a day when working for the government meant a sacrifice for public service. Government employees didn't face the vagaries of employment in the corporate sector, where jobs come and go, but in return government jobs didn't come with the salaries and perks of the private sector, either.
Not anymore. The government unions want it all - high pay, stability and a growing work force. And they're willing to use their growing political clout to get it. Public-sector unions ferociously lobby each level of government for increased spending and oppose tax reductions.
In Oregon, public employees unions spent almost $4 million supporting ballot initiatives to raise personal income and business taxes by $733 million. The Service Employee International Union (SEIU) spent millions in California campaigning for higher oil, gas and liquor taxes. In Arizona, the Arizona Education Association lobbied successfully against repealing a $250 million-a-year statewide property tax. Even in the conservative state of Alabama, the Alabama Education Association's annual convention endorsed tax increases on businesses, cigarettes and soft drinks - while voting down measures supporting spending restrictions to combat the state's budget shortfall.
And how great is unions' involvement in politics? Six of the top 10 -- and 12 of the top 20 -- donors to political campaigns during from 1989 to the present are unions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is the second overall donor shouldn't be surprising. Unionization in government is greater at the state and local level, so AFSCME has the most to gain from government budget bloat.
Another top-10 heavy hitter is the Service Employees International Union, which is working to increase its presence in the public sector -- which SEIU hopes will grow much larger through greater government involvement in health care. (Thanks to Iain Murray for the Opensecrets.org link.)