Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Michigan Union Numbers Never Seem to Add Up

After taking a few days to digest what is happening in Michigan, labor is still nauseous. Labor and its allies are hoping to keep their anger about the inevitable right-to-work law in the limelight with a visit from President Obama today. Over the weekend, some newspapers began to write the obituaries for unions in Michigan while those favoring forced unionism have drawn up ways to attack the bill on the streets and in the courts.

Some of the staunchest pro-forced-unionism talking points have come from The Nation. John Nichols, who must have a “Koch brothers” quota to meet, tries to draw as many connections to them and Dick DeVos as possible as a way to explain that it’s all part of a “sneak attack” on labor. Nichols leaves out the facts that labor fired the first shot in the fall when it put Proposal 2 on the ballot. The measure would have prohibited a right-to-work bill to be adopted by the legislature. The awful proposal failed in spectacular fashion in November. Allison Kilkenny provides a preview, complete with video, of the thousands of distraught labor protestors and their plans for Tuesday. Think Wisconsin, but worse.

But Lee Fang’s article takes the cake. Extending Nichols’s talking points about moneyed interests at play, he breaks down the spending of “Pro ‘Right to Work’ Groups” versus their “Union Counterparts.” For this, he considers the budgets of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and Americans for Prosperity-Michigan versus Progress Michigan, with the latter being “the only comparable group in Michigan” that can take on the big, bad free-market folks. Progress Michigan is funded by some local unions in the state.

But Fang’s analysis is particularly lacking in one major group that spends in favor of union issues—unions. Labor does not need to assemble a new organization in order to spend money on its preferred policies and politics. Take 2010, when Governor Rick Snyder was first elected. Fang notes that Progress Michigan raised roughly $710,000 compared to AFP-Michigan at $1.1 million and Mackinac at $3.5 million. A quick glance at the federal filings for some of the largest Michigan unions show that their combined political spending that year far outweighs anything that Mackinac or AFP spent. The Michigan Education Association (MEA) led the way with over $3.5 million in political activities and lobbying spending, followed by AFSCME-Michigan’s Leadership Council 25, spending roughly $2.7 million—just to name the top two. And the United Auto Workers (UAW) national union, based in Michigan, spent roughly $10.5 million on political activities and lobbying in 2010. There are also the Political Action Committees that spent big bucks in 2010. The UAW’s Michigan PAC collected $1.75 million dollars and the MEA PAC took in $1 million-plus.

And a look at the issues this year shows that labor is not exactly at a disadvantage. Proposal 2 groups raised a record $45 million between both sides, with the labor-favored group pulling in roughly $21.5 million to push for the ill-fated constitutional amendment.

Fang’s comparison is also incomplete because it assumes that the only activities that Mackinac and AFP-Michigan engage in are related to labor unions. There’s little chance that organized labor has anything to fear from Mackinac’s Michigan Science project. On the other side of Fang’s flawed coin, any labor leader would undoubtedly say that the political activity and lobbying spending by the union would be in the union’s best interests—even if the union members don’t think that spending is appropriate.

Categories: Center for Union FactsPolitical MoneyUnion Math