Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Who’s watching the watchmen?

Yale Political Science Professor Jacob Hacker and Yale law student Nate Loewentheil seem to have solved America’s woes in a mere 58 pages, Intro to Conclusion, with their plan for “Prosperity Economics.” It strikes common left-leaning themes:  government control is better than free markets; spending is a good thing; inequality finds no respite in social mobility, etc.

The notable supporters of the plan are the AFL-CIOSEIU, and the Big Labor-funded Economic Policy Institute. The report was released at EcPI and included remarks from Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO.

The group Loewentheil founded, The Roosevelt Institute, received a total of $35,000 from the AFL-CIO, UNITE HERE, and the Teamsters in July and August of 2011. And the website for the report directs the “Contact Us” email address to Jeff Parcher of the Center for Community Change, another supporter of the plan. The Center and its sister organization, the Campaign for Community Change, received a combined $35,000 from the SEIU National Headquarters and a local chapter, AFL-CIO, and UNITE HERE in 2010-2011.

So how do we get to the promised land? With more unions, of course!

Two sets of checks and balances within the market are particularly important: improved corporate governance and unions.


Empowering unions and other forms of collective bargaining is therefore a top priority… To that end, we must implement a quick, fair process for workers to choose union representation and have the power to bargain collectively and stronger penalties for violation of labor laws. (emphasis in original).

The report goes on to discuss the ills of political money in elections, highlighting that corporations can spend money with Super PACs. Not surprisingly, the report fails to mention that unions can do the same thing. Although “evil corporations” make for great boogeymen in the campaign finance world, it’s disingenuous to claim that your opponents’ exercising their rights is wrong when you also take advantage of the same laws.

It’s possible we missed the press release about how the SEIU was no longer supporting pro-Obama Super PACs or coordinating its advertising with a Super PAC supporting Democrats running for the House of Representatives. Or perhaps we didn’t hear Richard Trumka say that he’s dropping the Super PAC the AFL-CIO started last year. But that’s doubtful.

And while Hacker and Loewentheil discuss why democracy is so important, they leave out the glaring problem with entrusting unions as the watchmen. Unions can often be established and remain in power without a secret ballot vote, or even without a vote at all.

The only good explanation for this omission is that union bosses are on the side of the angels. And if you don’t agree with them, it doesn’t quite make you the devil—it only makes you either a racist, a gun nut, a right-wing kook, or, worst of all, a Republican.

Categories: AFL-CIOAnti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsNewsSEIUTeamstersUNITE HERE