Policy: Labor

Top three myths of Big Labor

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Matt Patterson,Op-Eds,Labor unions,Labor,AFL-CIO,SEIU,AFSCME,UAW

Labor unions have been a powerful force in American life since the early 20th century. Yet many myths and misconceptions about unions abound, both on the Left and Right.

Here are the top three myths about unions, busted.

Myth 1: Unions are all about representing workers to employers.

The American labor movement has goals far beyond merely bargaining for wages at a local factory or plant. In fact, unions today function primarily as source of money and foot soldiers for one political party and its progressive agenda.

A recent analysis by the Wall Street Journal found union political spending totaled a whopping $4.4 billion from 2005 through 2011 alone.

Take the United Auto Workers, which according to OpenSecrets.org is “one of the most politically active of all unions.”

In the 2012 election cycle alone, the union spent an astonishing $14.7 million, including $1.7 million to (mostly liberal) candidates and $11.5 million to outside groups dedicated to various left-wing causes.

President Obama received $148,967 from the union in 2012. After the election, UAW chief Bob King bragged that he and his “progressive allies” had “scored a huge victory in November when we re-elected President Barack Obama.”

And the UAW -- like a lot of unions -- backed Obama's disastrous health care reform, bragging on its website:

“The UAW ... strongly supports the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2010.”

Myth 2: Union bosses fight for the working people against the “1 percent.”

The truth: Union bosses are the rich they so vociferously condemn. As the Washington Free Beacon reported in September, “More than 400 labor officials earned more than a quarter of a million dollars in salary in 2012.”

In fact, the rank-and-file union members who are struggling in these difficult economic times might be interested to know that the top 100 highest-paid union officials took home $52 million between them — in 2012 alone.

Myth 3: Private-sector unions are no longer a threat.

Much has been justly made about the rise of public-sector unions and their ability to bust local and state budgets.

And although its certainly true that the union membership rate for public employees is higher than that of their private-sector counterparts (35.9 percent versus 6.6 percent), the number of workers is about the same in both sectors -- 7.3 million in the public versus 7 million in the private, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics using 2012 data.

That makes private-sector unions still very much a threat to companies. Ask former Hostess employees, thousands of whom lost their jobs thanks to expensive contact demands from the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers International Union that ultimately caused the beloved American company to shutter its bakeries last holiday season.

And, of course, many unions represent both public- and private-sector workers — the Service Employees International Union, though largely thought of as a private union, brags that it is “the second largest union of public service employees with more than 1 million local and state government workers.”

The UAW also counts “more than 50,000 public sector workers,” among its members, according to the union’s website.

The UAW is also a classic example of how the theoretical distinctions between public- and private-sector unions blur in actual practice.

The bailout of the (ostensibly private) Detroit auto industry was in fact a giant public subsidy to the UAW. If tax dollars go to shore up a private union, then for all intents and purposes, it is a public union.

It's time we started seeing unions for what they really are: political entities that shake down companies and governments to the enrichment of labor bosses, all in service of a left-wing ideology vastly at odds with the values of many, many of its members.

Matt Patterson is executive director of the Center for Worker Freedom at Americans for Tax Reform.
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