Trumka’s Empty Threat to Democrats

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is warning Democratic politicians today: Push our agenda, or we won’t support you in the 2012 election. It’s hard to imagine those Democrats quaking in their boots. As The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein notes,

The labor community — the AFL-CIO especially — has been taking steps towards greater independence from the Democratic Party as its disappointments with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats have mounted. The typical response from party insiders has been dismissive assumptions that labor has nowhere else to go.

Indeed, Trumka’s threats ring hollow. It’s not like the Obama administration hasn’t been trying to advance Big Labor’s agenda. It’s been Republican opposition in Congress that has thwarted card check legislation and the confirmation of some pro-union executive branch nominees. Yet it seems that Trumka still had to find some reason to throw a public tantrum. The HuffPo’s Stein reports:

Trumka also says in the prepared remarks that party affiliation alone won’t determine how the federation allocates its resources in 2012. If Republican lawmakers embrace parts of the AFL-CIO’s agenda, the union federation will respond in kind.

The likelihood of a rush of Republican politicians (beyond perhaps a couple of rust belt outliers) seeking union endorsements by supporting Obamacare, card check, foreign trade barriers, more spending, and higher taxes  is, to put it mildly, nil.

Today, government employees make up a majority of all union members, so it is in public sector employment where the future of organized labor will be decided. So far, the unions aren’t doing well.

At the state and local level, a growing number of Democrat elected officials are taking on public employee unions for the simple reason that their jurisdictions are broke. Facing a decision between angering either the general public through increased taxes and service cuts or their union supporters through spending cuts, many are choosing the latter.

The taxpaying public will put up with the diffuse costs they bear to pay for public sector unions’ concentrated benefits only as long they remain relatively low enough per payee. When those costs start rising and government employee compensation starts to drain resources from essential public services, public resistance will tend to rise with it.

By the same token, voters aware of their states’ and cities’ deep financial problems will likely reward elected officials who seriously address those problems. Thus, Democrats for whom losing union endorsements was once a worrying prospect may now find taxpayer ire a bigger concern.

For more on labor see here and here.