- - Thursday, May 7, 2015


The Laborers Union is bucking orthodoxy and a temporary AFL-CIO spending moratorium. They are steering the majority of their political contributions to candidates based not on their party affiliations, but on their positions that matter to union members.

Historically, unions have given almost exclusively to Democratic politicians. In 2014, 89 percent of union federal PAC contributions went to the blue team. However, the Laborers’ International Union of North America has kicked off 2015 with a different approach.

New Federal Election Commission filings show that through the first three months of this year, the union contributed $125,000 — or 60 percent of its political spending — to the GOP. That’s a big jump from 15 percent last year and 13 percent in 2012.

Why the change? Simple. The Laborers Union sees Democrats sucking up to the green lobby while standing in the way of employment for union members. This is all epitomized by the party’s refusal to budge on the Keystone XL pipeline that would create thousands of unionized construction jobs. (Granted, this change is also partially pragmatic — supporting the party that’s in power.)

David Mallino, the union’s legislative director, explained his rationale for the GOP support to the International Business Times: “What we’re trying to do is support people who support our members and our union [and] many Democrats seem to be ripping off talking points from the environmental fringe.”

This is a rare instance of union political spending aligning with members’ interests rather than the normal partisan and ideological allegiances. Most major labor organizations, including the SEIU, AFSCME and the AFL-CIO, appear content to help left-wing friends rather than reflect members’ priorities.

The disconnect between the involuntary contributions to political special interest groups (that are taken from coerced union member dues) and those union members’ sympathy is striking. An analysis of 2013 labor union grants, commissions and other spending shows more than 99 percent of union special interest contributions — more than $109 million — went to Democratic or liberal groups. Yet 38 percent of union household members report having voted for Republicans.

Here’s a simple question. How much sympathy do you think union leaders have for groups that are opposed to creating more union jobs? Little to none? Wrong. Unions contributed nearly $3 million to a dozen radical environmentalist groups like Greenpeace, which wants to eliminate the use of all fossil fuel energy and hydropower, and to the League of Conservation Voters, whose mission involves “electing pro-environment leaders” (read: anti-development) to office.

Unions also spent another million dollars in 2013 funding hard-left media groups, including Mother Jones and the Center for Media and Democracy, to help publicize these groups’ propaganda, which is unlikely to align with the blue-collar voter.

Unions have spent member dues to fund the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the General Union of Palestinian Teachers. What this has to do with bargaining for better wages or working conditions is a stretch on a good day. These coerced contributions violate the basic American principle that employees shouldn’t be forced to choose between their beliefs and their jobs (many jobs require you to pay union dues or be fired).

To a certain extent, the Supreme Court agrees. In a series of cases it has found that requiring employees to pay dues to support political causes they don’t agree with is not enforceable. However, in order for employees to exercise this right, they must go through a complicated opt-out process that also forfeits workplace privileges conferred by union membership, notably, the right to vote on a contract, which may also be an effective strike vote.

There’s an easier way. Specifically, it’s passage of the Employee Rights Act — a package of popular reforms supported by union and non-union households alike that is about to be reintroduced in Congress. The law changes union political spending from an opt-out to an opt-in process, where labor unions must obtain prior approval from employees to spend dues on any political activities.

This simple step would help eliminate the disconnect between union spending and members’ interests. Final question: Can you guess who is opposed?

Rick Berman is president of Berman and Co., a Washington public affairs firm.

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