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September 6, 2010 / J. Shaw

Big Unions, Less Members, More Clout

As Americans celebrate this Labor Day weekend, two seemingly contradictory facts about the current state of the union movement in this country stand out.

First, with only 7 percent of the total, fewer employees in the private sector are union members today than ever before. Even when numbers for both the private and public sectors are combined, only 12 percent of American workers are union members. Fewer members mean less income from compulsory dues. Less money coming into union treasuries ought to result in fewer partisan campaign contributions going out.

But by borrowing millions from the same banks that labor leaders so often demonize as greedy enemies of the working man, union bosses in 2008 were able to spend record amounts on electing Democrats at all levels of government. As Service Employees International Union president Andrew Stern said, “we spent a fortune to elect Barack Obama — $60.7 million to be exact — and we are proud of it.” Stern’s union had to borrow $25 million to make payroll in 2008 and has pledged to spend millions more on behalf of Democrats in the 2010 congressional races.

That brings us to the second fact, which is that, despite having fewer private-sector members than ever before, Big Labor likely has more influence than ever in the White House and on Capitol Hill, thanks to those millions it gave to Democrats. The union bosses have not been shy about demanding paybacks, as seen in the fact that Stern was the most frequent outside visitor to the Oval Office in 2009.

But having access to the Oval Office is far from the most important evidence of those paybacks being delivered. Consider these examples:

»  Only 10 days after taking the oath of office, Obama signed three executive orders that, respectively, limited what federal contractors can say to employees during union organizing drives, made it harder to fire incompetent employees of government contractors, and directed federal contractors to insure that employees are aware of their organizing rights.

»  One week later, Obama signed another executive order that requires federal agencies to use union-favored Project Labor Agreements on large federally funded construction projects. Not only does that mean many state government construction projects must use a PLA, but so must many economic stimulus-funded projects.

»  Hilda Solis, Obama’s secretary of labor, has nullified disclosure rules issued during the Bush administration that were designed to increase union financial transparency on forms required to be filed with the government under the Landrum-Griffin Labor Management Reporting Disclosure Act of 1959. The disclosure requirements, which were not enforced before Bush, made it possible for union members to see what their officers were doing with their dues

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