Big Labor is a key partisan constituent in the Democratic Party coalition, as evidenced by the fact that roughly 90 percent of union PAC contributions to candidates and an even greater percentage of union contributions to non-party ideological organizations go to Democrats and the Left.
However, that doesn’t mean that Democrats always give unions what they want. The latest schism? The Obama Administration is pushing a series of trade promotion bills that have significant bi-partisan support in the Republican-controlled Congress, and labor unions aren’t taking kindly to this outbreak of economic sense. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Dozens of major labor unions plan to freeze campaign contributions to members of Congress to pressure them to oppose fast-track trade legislation sought by President Barack Obama, according to labor officials. […]
Unions have opposed the TPP through demonstrations, letters to lawmakers and political ads, but withholding political contributions is a more forceful way of flexing their muscle. In the 2014 midterm elections, unions—the lifeblood of the Democratic Party—contributed about $65 million from their political-action committee, or PACs, to candidates, nearly all Democrats.
So the AFL-CIO and other labor unions now find themselves stuck in the classic bind of the political “cheap date”—since they aren’t going to start funding the other party, they can be safely sidelined. It’s the same reason why unions’ concerns that their healthcare plans were unfairly treated under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) have fallen on deaf ears.
Now, unions have begun trying a different approach: If the Democratic Party won’t carry your water, elect a new Democratic Party. We see this in efforts like Ms. Zephyr Teachout’s union-backed candidacy for Governor of New York in 2014 or the SEIU’s attempt to oust Blanche Lincoln in a 2010 U.S. Senate election over her skepticism towards the card-check bill. Currently sitting on Big Labor’s hot-seat is Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a fairly orthodox liberal who nevertheless represents a trade-dependent state and has been trying to broker a compromise between a hesitant center-left and the more free-trade Republicans and Obama Administration. That may not be enough for a union movement that demands total fealty.
But the labor-Administration divide on trade shows just how far from the political mainstream labor’s agenda is. Like the divide between the teachers unions and many liberals (including Education Secretary Arne Duncan) on the need for tenure reform, the divide between unions and the Administration on free trade shows that Big Labor will do anything to drag the Democratic Party and national policy to the left.