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Taxpayer money fuels big labor’s political machine

By   /   April 8, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

Photo from SEIU, via Twitter

OBAMACARE DEFENDERS: Dues taken from public employees make SEIU one of the many powerful big labor supporters of President Obama’s unpopular 2010 health insurance law

America’s four largest labor unions spent more than $179 million last year promoting big government, and did so using taxpayer money.

Public-sector unions were crucial to the passage of Obamacare, and in 2014 they helped push progressive priorities including minimum-wage hikes and amnesty for illegal immigrants.

It’s widely known the National Education Association, Service Employees International Union, American Federation of Teachers and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees are among the country’s top campaign donors.

Not content to fund politicians who will advance their agenda, NEA, SEIU, AFT and AFSCME also bankroll dozens of think tanks and activist groups fighting for bigger government in the name of “social justice.”

Why does this matter to taxpayers?

Since more than half of SEIU’s members and nearly all NEA, AFT and AFSCME members are public employees, the labor unions take taxpayer money for union dues and spend it on left-wing politics.

Photo: Mackinac Center

UNION WATCHDOG: F. Vincent Vernuccio is a labor policy expert at the Mackinac Center

“Government union collective bargaining is a vicious circle,” F. Vincent Vernuccio, labor policy director at the free-market Mackinac Center for Public Policy, told Watchdog.org during a phone interview.

Vernuccio said public-sector union funding of politicians and advocacy groups yields more taxpayer money for public-sector unions to spend on politicians and advocacy groups.

“This cycle goes on and on, and everyone is happy … everyone except for the taxpayer, who at the end of the day is stuck footing the bill,” he said.

Public-sector unions’ political spending is a disservice to the 40 percent of union members who vote Republican, Vernuccio said.

“What you’re seeing with both public- and private-sector unions is that they are spending more on political activity. Unfortunately they’re spending more on politics than on representation — and while this focus may be good for the union leadership, it is not good for the average rank-and-file worker they represent.”

“Unions need to get back to their original mission of representation and get out of special-interest politics,” Vernuccio said.

Last year, NEA, SEIU, AFT and AFSCME gave $1.4 million to Mi Familia Vota and $300,000 to National Council of La Raza, activist groups demanding amnesty and discounted in-state college tuition rates for illegal immigrants.

The four unions gave activist group Americans United for Change, a nonprofit promoting President Obama’s agenda, $1,508,500 last year. They paid Ballot Initiative Strategy Center $630,000 for help pushing state minimum-wage hikes.

National Public Pension Coalition, a defender of costly defined-benefit pensions against proposed reforms, received a total of $425,000 from NEA, SEIU, AFT and AFSCME last year.

Americans United for Change wasn’t the only all-purpose progressive group receiving public union money to push the unions’ policy wish list.

Progressive think tank Center for American Progress and its CAP Action arm, both heavily staffed with allies of President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, received $605,000 from NEA, SEIU, AFT and AFSCME.

Union think tank Economic Policy Institute received $523,000 from the four unions, while union front Jobs With Justice received $361,800. Progressive States Network — now part of the leftist State Innovation Exchange — received $345,000.

Several other progressive nonprofits received large payments from two or three of the top taxpayer-funded unions.

AFSCME, NEA and SEIU gave activist group America Votes $2.1 million, paid left-wing donor network Democracy Alliance $340,000, and gave $100,000 to Democracy Alliance project Committee on States.

In a labor movement shrinking as a percentage of America’s workforce, public-sector unions play an increasingly powerful role.

With 1.6 million and 1.3 million members, respectively, AFT and AFSCME are the largest unions in the AFL-CIO coalition. SEIU has 1.9 million members and steers its own Change to Win coalition, while the independent NEA has nearly 3 million members.

Combined, the four unions take dues from the paychecks of roughly 7 million teachers and government workers. Through payroll dues deduction, public agencies redirect public funds to NEA, SEIU, AFT and AFSCME at taxpayer expense.

In 21 states, teachers and other public employees who decline union membership can be forced to pay union “agency fees” in order to have a job.

Based on the unions’ annual reports to the U.S. Department of Labor, last year AFSCME spent $65 million on campaign contributions, lobbying and political advocacy ,while SEIU spent $52 million, NEA spent $35 million and AFT spent $27 million.


Jason was formerly a reporter for Watchdog.org