Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Attack Ads Brought to You by Big Labor

big spendingIn this season of attack ads and SuperPACs, the idea that politics are infected by money is rampant and Big Labor wants the TV-watching public to believe that it has their backs. But it’s no secret that unions are big players in national elections. Open Secrets reports that union political action committees hold 11 of the top 15 spots for direct federal contributions since 1990. And unions employ the very same SuperPAC and 501(c)(4) tactics they decry in other circumstances.

And there’s a little known catch: While 90 percent of union political funding goes to Democrats, 40 percent of union householders vote Republican. That’s not nearly the worst of it—PAC contributions are by law opt-in. But unions also fund SuperPACs and left-wing pressure groups out of general dues money, and as our Executive Director is telling readers of the Birmingham News and the Tampa Tribune, this is a serious infringement on the employee rights of the “40 percent”:

[M]any union members are forced to fund the Democrats’ political infrastructure while they personally support Republicans. In 2012, union member dues funded over $170 million in spending on left-wing groups such as the Center for American Progress, Planned Parenthood, and Media Matters that provide the civic backdrop for Democratic Party politics.


Members who want out can’t just uncheck a box. The rules to get your money back if you prefer to vote Republican, have a moral objection to abortion, or like Fox News and don’t want to fund these groups are onerous, and unions push the boundaries of what’s legal to keep their money and power. Typically, to get a dues rebate union members have to forfeit rights in the workplace and may still have to pay the union certain fees.

There is a solution to this imbalance. Congress is currently considering the Employee Rights Act (ERA), which would require all political spending by unions to be opt-in. The “paycheck protection” provision supports the basic value that people shouldn’t have to choose between their consciences and their livelihoods. It’s not surprising that the provision also receives wide support, with over 80 percent of Americans in union and non-union households alike backing the proposal.

Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActPolitical MoneyUnion Spending