- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Never take investment advice from a union leader. As usual, organized labor emptied its pockets for Democrats in the recent midterm elections, spending at least $171.5 million in an attempt to keep the electoral map blue. Ninety-three percent of that astonishing figure went to elect Democratic politicians.

Half of those union donations came from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents government workers. Unsurprisingly, 99.5 percent of their contributions went to Democratic candidates. That money didn’t come from the wallets of union leaders. It came from their members’ paychecks. It turns out it’s pretty easy to invest in politics when you’re spending other people’s money.

But here’s the rub: According to pollster John Zogby, just 49 percent of union members voted Democratic, while 47 percent pulled the lever for Republicans.

Those union “investments” didn’t make much of a difference. The Republicans swept the House of Representatives and picked up six Senate seats. AFSCME just won about 20 percent of the races on which it spent money. Talk about a lousy rate of return.

But the chutzpah of union leaders who wasted their workers’ money has been appalling. Following the election, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka went around bragging about how many of his members had voted for Democrats. Regarding the contentious re-election of Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, Mr. Trumka said, “We voted 69 to 29 for [Mr. Reid], which is a 40 percent margin.”

But what about the 29 percent of Mr. Trumka’s members who weathered the AFL-CIO’s propaganda campaign and still voted for Mr. Reid’s opponent? Their forced dues ended up bankrolling candidates they voted against. So much for fair representation.

Union leaders love to argue that workers can “opt out” of having their dues used for political activities, but this is easier said than done. Sometimes unions don’t bother to inform workers of their right to opt out. Occasionally they simply ignore opt-out requests. In one case, the Service Employees International Union charged its local affiliates $6 per member for its political action committee, with fines imposed if the affiliate didn’t comply.

No wonder the New York Times called opting out “a little-known procedure few workers follow.”

Seven states - Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Michigan and Ohio - have responded by passing paycheck-protection laws. Those laws bar unions from snatching money from workers’ paychecks unless the worker signs an annual consent agreement.

But paycheck-protection laws are tough to pass on a ballot, let alone through state legislatures, where unions will stop at nothing to keep the cash flowing. In the 2005 paycheck-protection campaign in California, unions outspent supporters of the initiative 10-1. Labor supporters twisted logic into a pretzel, arguing that paycheck protection somehow would run roughshod on workers’ rights. The measure ultimately was voted down by a margin of 7 points.

But in this election, organized labor may have flexed its moneyed muscle a bit too much. The unions played “sugar daddy” to desperate Democrats, and Republicans aren’t likely to forget it anytime soon. One Republican National Committee spokesman told the New York Timesthat many Republicans will support national legislation requiring workers to opt in for all political contributions.

Unions have become little more than automated teller machines for the Democratic Party. Their members should have the right to stop the withdrawals.

J. Justin Wilson is the managing director of the Center for Union Facts.