Friday, August 26, 2011

Unrepresentative unions

Steven Malanga writes about how the union movement has moved left since it has come to encompass mostly public employee unions. That leads the unions to support bigger government and taxes increases. He also points out how the stands that union leaders take and how they spend their money do not represent the views of their membership. This is something that my students were just noticing for an assignment they had this week to examine exit polls from the last three presidential elections and 2010. And it's striking how union members are giving a substantial minority of their votes to Republican candidates. As Malanga points out, this was true even in 2008.
Exit polls estimate that 59% of union members voted for President Obama in 2008, a particularly strong Democratic year in which the president garnered 53% of the overall vote. In 2010, union members swung somewhat the other way, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found, with 54% of union members voting for Democratic congressional candidates and 42% for Republicans.

While there are no polls specifically on NEA members, data from the General Social Survey (GSS) suggest that grade school teachers in general have voted Democratic only somewhat more often than they have Republican in presidential elections dating back to 1972. Teachers have favored Democrats by 50% to 44% for the GOP (with the rest voting for independent candidates), according to an analysis of the massive GSS database by the blog The Audacious Epigone.
But that variety of views within the union membership is belied by how the unions send their money to elect Democrats. They have spent around 95% of their campaign donations on Democratic candidates.
The NEA—the fifth biggest giver to political campaigns in the past 20 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics—supports almost no one but Democrats for federal office, having given just 5% of its campaign contributions to Republicans since 1990.

Don't expect anything different from the nation's other biggest unions, private or public, including the dozen unions on the Center's list of the top 20 contributors to federal elections. Those unions, ranging from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to the Service Employees International Union to the Teamsters, overwhelmingly support Democrats. They have given only 3% of the $384 million they've contributed to candidates for federal office over the past 20 years to Republicans.
It is quite notable how the leadership is so much more liberal than their membership. Perhaps that is one reason why, when members are given a choice about paying union dues, they're voting with their dollars. George Will runs through what happens in states where dues-paying for public employee unions became voluntary rather than being taken automatically from their paychecks.
After Colorado in 2001 required public employees unions to have annual votes reauthorizing collection of dues, membership in the Colorado Association of Public Employees declined 70 percent. In 2005, Indiana stopped collecting dues from unionized public employees; in 2011, there are 90 percent fewer dues-paying members. In Utah, the end of automatic dues deductions for political activities in 2001 caused teachers’ payments to fall 90 percent. After a similar law passed in 1992 in Washington state, the percentage of teachers making such contributions declined from 82 to 11.

Democrats furiously oppose Walker because public employees unions are transmission belts, conveying money to the Democratic Party. Last year, $11.2 million in union dues was withheld from paychecks of Wisconsin’s executive branch employees and $2.6 million from paychecks at the university across the lake. Having spent improvidently on the recall elections, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the teachers union, is firing 40 percent of its staff.
And now the same thing is going to happen in Wisconsin. If this policy change is made in other states, the financial clout of those public employee unions will be lessened. Perhaps then they'll work to better represent the views of their members rather than simply extracting their dues and then spending that money to elect Democrats.