Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

The hand that feeds you: Public-sector unions dominate campaign finance

The next time you see an advertisement for a pro-union Democrat, keep in mind where some of the money is coming from: the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

The 1.6 million-member AFSCME is spending a total of $87.5 million on the elections after tapping into a $16 million emergency account to help fortify the Democrats’ hold on Congress. Last week, AFSCME dug deeper, taking out a $2 million loan to fund its push. The group is spending money on television advertisements, phone calls, campaign mailings and other political efforts, helped by a Supreme Court decision that loosened restrictions on campaign spending.

“We’re the big dog,” said Larry Scanlon, the head of AFSCME’s political operations. “But we don’t like to brag.”

The 2010 election could be pivotal for public-sector unions, whose clout helped shield members from the worst of the economic downturn. In the 2009 stimulus and other legislation, Democratic lawmakers sent more than $160 billion in federal cash to states, aimed in large part at preventing public-sector layoffs. If Republicans running under the banner of limited government win in November, they aren’t likely to support extending such aid to states.

As the Center for Union Fact’s Sonny Bunch noted about teachers unions, a majority of public-sector employees probably vote Democrat. But 100% of public-sector employees do not. And yet the AFSCME’s members are forced to watch their dues bankroll a last-ditch blitz to save the Democrats’ congressional majorities.

According to Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute, the compensation difference between a state that has no public sector union representation and one that has the average number of government employees unionized is 8.1%. And James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation calculates that “Salaries and benefits – for identical jobs – are 30 percent to 40 percent higher in the federal government than in the private sector.”

Now the public is catching on. A recent Washington Post poll found that 52 percent of Americans think government employees are overpaid. Three-quarters believe that government workers make more than those in the private sector. And lawmakers like New Jersey’s Chris Christie have taken on public-sector unions and won.

Categories: AFSCMECenter for Union FactsPolitical Money