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Unions’ Extensive Influence over Politics Highlights Need for Reform

As the midterm elections approach, it’s interesting to keep tabs on the biggest spenders and the heaviest-hitting activists. OpenSecrets.org reports that unions spend millions on political spending every election cycle and the biggest spenders give mostly to outside spending groups. This year, teachers’ unions are raising the stakes with record-level political spending. This gives labor unions and especially teachers’ unions tremendous influence over politics. Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, that fact is troubling for a couple reasons. First, it would be one thing if unions acknowledged that they have as much influence over politics as conservative groups like ALEC. But the rhetoric that unions use to denounce the ways conservative groups spend their money is comically hypocritical. For example, Jane Carter, a labor economist with the AFSCME, accused corporations associated with ALEC of spending money to benefit the rich at the expense of the middle class while union-backed “living wage” laws will be responsible for costing Milwaukee County taxpayers nearly $30 million by 2019. As labor expert James Sherk says, “I think it’s very rich for the unions to criticize people for doing the exact same things they do.” In fact, two studies from the Competitive Enterprise Institute showed that heavy unionization in many states actually decreases workers’ real per capita income by reducing companies’ output, causing local economies to suffer and large-scale wage depression to proliferate. But if the hypocrisy in how unions frame their political spending doesn’t bother you, you may want to read what the president of the biggest teachers’ union in New York said about opponents of Common Core. The second reason why those of all political stripes should worry about Big Labor’s political spending is because of the conflict of interest that public-sector union political spending represents. Government workers get their paychecks from taxpayers and the unions will undoubtedly support the candidate that promises them the most generous benefits at the taxpayers’ expense. Finally, almost every sum of money that unions use for political spending inevitably comes from a minority of union members whose political and moral beliefs don’t line up with the recipient. For example, in 2012, many members of union households (40%) voted for Mitt Romney but union PACs spent 90% of their funds to support Democrats. It’s no secret that most union political spending goes to Democrats or left-wing groups, but there are many conservative union members. Unfortunately for those workers, the process of separating funding for representational activities and political activities from a paycheck is agonizing and many union representatives are deceptive as to when members’ money is going to representational activities or political activities. This is all the more reason to hope that Congress will pass the Employee Rights Act, which would make it easier for union members to opt out of spending for political purposes. For more examples of why the enormous political influence of unions should worry you, click here and here.