San José State University
Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley

How the Bosses of Government Employee
Unions Gained Control of American Politics

Private sector unions and government employee unions are quite different institutions in their effect on the economy. If private sector unions demand and gain too high wage rates the companies affected can move to less unionized states or set up operations in other countries. And such has happened. Thus now less than 7 percent of workers in the private sector are unionized. That is about one in fourteen being a union member. In contrast, about one in three Federal workers are unionized, one in three State government workers are unionized and almost half of local government workers are unionized. Overall then about forty percent of government workers are represented by a union. If government unions demand excessive salaries their government cannot outsource their services to another state or country. Those government can only demand higher taxes from their tax payers.

Furthermore government unions have a way of gaining higher pay and higher employment that is not open to the private sector unions. Government employee unions can make contributions to the politicians who are going to control their government employer. This is not just a financial contribution; so-called union volunteers help with a candidates campaign. This is often more important than the large financial contributions. The term so-called volunteers is used because the union pays those volunteers. In effect, the union hires campaign workers for the candidates it supports. Politicians who benefit from those government employee unions have a choice; either show their gratitude or face those government employee unions financing their opponents in the next election.

The government unions is most cases are able to collect a fee from those who do not want to join the union. It is characterized as a payment for their being represented by the union.

Altogether unions collect about $14 billion per year and much of this goes for political contributions. However the union bosses get their cut too. The president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) makes about $555 thousand per year. The international secretary-treasurer of AFSCME makes almost $850 thousand per year. The president of the National Education Association (NEA), a teachers' union, makes $400 thousand. The president of the American Federation of Teachers makes $425 thousand. All of this is paid for out of the union dues and the involuntary payments for representation received by the unions. However, there is another source of pay for minor union officials. The time they spend in the workplace carrying out union duties has to be paid for by the government employer.

So the system is like a well-oiled machine.

Unions officials support politicians and the politicians give the union officials what they want in terms of employment and pay raises. Likewise Union officials simultaneously support and rule over government employees. They get government employees higher pay and greater job security but take away a share of that pay as dues. Also likewise politicians simultaneously support and rule over government employees. With elections so often being so close the support of a voting bloc of government employees may be vital to politicians.

Another depiction of the situation is the image of the ouroboros.

At one time unions hedged their bets by giving money to both major party candidates. Now their influence with the Democratic Party borders on total control, so they only support their party. At one time unions were more or less the fund raising arm of the Democratic Party. Now the Democratic Party is more or less the political front of organized labor, particularly organized government labor.

(To be continued.)

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