The labor battle in Missouri is becoming supersized because of union super PACs. Unions can support politicians (just Democrats, of course) and policies through super PACs, which would be largely funded by dues money. Unions have plenty of cash to throw toward political interests, but now union leaders have promised to focus on “electing Democratic state legislators” in Republican states.
Unions show up more than any other industry on OpenSecret’s list of Heavy Hitters, which is a list of top political spenders. OpenSecrets also reports that public sector unions donated $49,500 to the only two Missouri Democratic Representatives, William Clay Jr. and Emmanuel Cleaver, and labor PACs in general gave around $3.7 million to congressional Democrats in the 2013-2014 cycle alone. Union super PACS have already outspent corporations’ super PACs and even the Koch Brothers can’t keep up with these deep-pocketed unions!
But what’s the problem with that? Shouldn’t unions be involved in politics on the same level as everyone else? Responding to a WSJ article that exposes the enormity of union political spending, the AFL-CIO says, “…Unions are advocacy organizations. The job of a union is to advocate on behalf of working men and women…They ignore that corporations outspend unions by well more than 10 to 1 but are free to hide their spending while unions disclose everything.” (For a textbook case of union “advocacy,” see Trey Kovacs’ piece on embattled California farm workers.)
The AFL-CIO’s main contentions are misleading: Many unions spend more money on politics than representation, they’re obviously not outspent by corporations (as shown above), and they’re misleading in their financial disclosures, listing political activities as representational activities. Such organizations are not ones that “advocate on behalf of working men and women,” since they mislead dues-paying members about where their money is going. (Unions have also been known to use dues money to sue companies that require their members to be courteous to customers.)
Speaking of unions misleading their members, we have come to the first of the two major problems with union super PACs: They would be funded by union dues and, given Big Labor’s overwhelming favoritism for Democrats, conservative union members would be forced to fund politicians and policies which they don’t support. The Center for Union Facts reports that CNN polls showed 36 percent of union members voting for Bush in 2004, yet 95 percent of union funds went to Kerry. The Center for Union Facts also reports that 55 percent of members supported personal retirement accounts, but unions spent millions to fight private accounts in Social Security.
But the worst problem with union super PACs is that nonunion members would also be funding them involuntarily! An “agency fee” is often required of nonunion employees, which the union justifies by saying that these nonunion employees can free-ride on the benefits of representation since the union represents all employees at a company. But many unions arbitrarily decide how much to charge nonunion employees and use fees to fund blatantly political activities while claiming that they are representational activities. This corrupt practice can be seen in the plight of California school teachers.
Giving to a super PAC should be voluntary and align with the giver’s political views. Many donations to union super PACs are involuntary. As I have said earlier, Big Labor operates in very undemocratic ways and Missouri union super PACs will greatly strengthen that unfortunate reality.