Under a law signed by former President George W. Bush, all unions must publicly disclose their assets and expenses. Such disclosures reveal the political contributions made by unions and the salaries of top union officials.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal used the public data to examine the broad array of political contributions of the two most powerful teachers’ unions — the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Over the weekend, Fox News used the data to show that union bosses make ten times more than the average American worker.
The data does, however, reveal another trend in the labor movement: Due in part to the growing right-to-work phenomenon, unions have lost considerable numbers of their rank-and-file in the last decade. Therefore, organizations like the NEA have morphed into primarily political organizations.
They want to obtain the best possible political representation (read: union execs and their assistants) and the most promising political coalitions that union dues can buy. Instead of bargaining for higher union wages, union bosses focus their energies on cultivating lucrative political contacts. Such a strategy tends to entrench a union bureaucracy that identifies more with the political elite than with ordinary workers.
This shift in attitudes is subtle, but it carries important ramifications for the future of the labor union. As union bosses live an increasingly lavish lifestyle, they may find themselves unexpectedly defending income inequality to a disillusioned and rather unhappy workforce. This, of all things, may be the most startling turn of all.