Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

The Price of An Election

Take a step into an alternate universe, just for a minute: Mitt Romney has just been elected the 45th President of the United States. Millions have been spent on the campaign, but one of the largest chunks comes from Corporation X. This large corporation starts to take claim for Romney’s win even before polls have closed. The leadership of the corporation has made campaign stops to rally its troops throughout the campaign. In press releases that go out hours after Romney’s victory speech, Corp X explains how its many volunteers, phone calls, and door-to-door stops led to the Romney win.

But some people want to know why Corp. X spent so much money on Romney’s campaign. The chairman of Corp. X tells a national newspaper who asks about political spending, “We’re the big dog, but we don’t like to brag.” When asked about what he expects in return for the corporation’s investment, the chairman explains that President-elect Romney needs to deliver on a piece of legislation that favors the corporation. That will be Romney’s payback to Corp. X. The chairman said that Corp. X spent a fortune on electing Romney, and he’s proud of it. And in no uncertain terms, he tells the press that, “Romney has owed a debt to Corp. X and will continue to owe a debt to Corp. X.”

It would only be a matter of time before outrage would ensue from both sides of the aisle.

Now, come back to reality and consider President Obama’s election and re-election. Labor unions spent millions upon millions of dollars to push Obama over the top in 2008 and again in 2012. And what did we hear last time? Here’s a hint: The political activity of imaginary Corp. X and the quotes from its hypothetical chairman weren’t created out of thin air.

The AFL-CIO’s midday memo showed high turnout for union members in Ohio was higher than in 2008. President Richard Trumka made campaign stops throughout battleground states. The SEIU’s “Victory!” e-mail sent out this morning bragged about the 13 million calls, 25,000 volunteers, and 5 million door knocks by the labor union. The “big dog” is AFSCME, according to its head of political operations.
As for payback? Gerald McEntee of AFSCME made clear what he expected:

Mr. McEntee said labor must guard against overreaching and should avoid warring with other Democratic-leaning groups – “to turn the other cheek on this and be more interested in the bigger picture,” he said – but he also said unions paid their dues by supporting Democrats and President-elect Barack Obama in this year’s election. He said they expect that effort to be rewarded with action. The payback would be Employee Free Choice Act – that would be a vehicle to strengthen and build the American labor movement and the middle class,” he said.

And who had the pride in bankrolling Obama’s 2008 win? None other than Andy Stern of the SEIU:

We spent a fortune to elect Barack Obama — $60.7 million to be exact — and we’re proud of it.

Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, is ready to collect from Obama:

“Barack Obama has owed a debt to labor and will continue to owe a debt to labor”

It’s clear that labor has an expectation of a quid pro quo. In 2008, unions bragged about their spending, and were explicit that it came with strings attached. And despite many of his other campaign promises, Obama and Democrats in Congress pushed hard for EFCA when they controlled the White House and Congress. But yet, there is no outcry. With even greater spending on Obama’s campaign this year, there is no reason to suspect that that anything has changed.

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court put unions and corporations on par with one another when it comes to allowable political spending. The decision has been used by progressives to demonize corporations and imply that big spenders will have politicians in their pockets. But why is it acceptable for labor to openly discuss buying a politician’s way into office—the Oval Office—and still not hear a peep?

Categories: Center for Union FactsEnding Secret BallotsPolitical Money