Chopping Down the Government Union Money Tree

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money wadThe Washington Post published a front-page article entitled “Walker’s anti-union law has labor reeling in Wisconsin” that should be must reading for every Republican governor in the nation.

It is significant not because of the bleating and plaintive cries of those union leaders who are trying to organize in the face of public employees having a choice of whether to send dues in or not. No, it is significant because these union leaders have discovered that once their members are no longer compelled to pay for their services, they choose to spend their money in different, more personally relevant ways.

The Post reports that, “The state branch of the National Education Association [NEA], once 100,000 strong, has seen its membership drop by a third. The American Federation of Teachers, which organized in the college system, saw a 50 percent decline. The 70,000-person membership in the state employees union has fallen by 70 percent.”

When the totals are added up, in the Wisconsin NEA and the state employees union alone, 83,000 former union members, or 48 percent of the membership, have chosen to opt out when given the choice.

The situation has gotten so dire for the state American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) affiliate that they have instituted a significant cut in dues payments in an attempt to make their product more attractive to those who have rejected it.

The Post follows with their analysis of the political impact of the choice, writing, “The decline is politically significant in Wisconsin, a presidential battleground where the unions have played a central role in Democrats’ get-out-the-vote drives.”

But even in their attempt to equate the consequences to the political situation, the Post misses the most important point of all. In 2014 alone, AFSCME made almost $91 million in campaign contributions nationwide, with 99 percent of those contributions going to Democrats or left-leaning candidates according to OpenSecrets.org.

That number would have likely been even higher if not for the loss of 49,000 members in Wisconsin, which costs AFSCME as much as $7.3 million each year based upon the standard AFSCME $12.45 per capita rate for full-time employees.

The question for the Republican governors of the 20 states, other than Wisconsin, which are controlled by Republican state legislatures, is why they haven’t enacted similar changes in their states?

Simply by stopping their states from collecting public employee union dues and making the payment optional, these dead red states could have a massive budgetary impact on the major lobbying arms for bigger government. The de facto emasculation of the national public employee unions like AFSCME by this simple action could drain more than $100 million in dues money from their coffers each year, effectively limiting these self-interested purveyors of big government the means to have an outsized influence on the debate over the size and scope of government.

This doesn’t include the obvious impact on the NEA, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and American Federation of Teachers, which between them gave $360 million in political contributions last year, with only $4.5 million going to Republicans.

Following Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-Wis.) lead reestablishing choice for public employees in whether they send their dues to a union is not only the morally correct decision, but it is the politically wise one. The only question is what is taking the other 20 Republican governors so long in following Wisconsin?


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Rick Manningis the Vice President of Public Policy and Communications for Americans for Limited Government and the former Public Affairs Chief of Staff for the U.S. Department of Labor. Americans for Limited Governmentis dedicated to putting the principles of limited government into action. They work with local groups across the nation to promote freedom, limited government, and the principles of the U.S. Constitution. Their goal is to harness the power of American citizens and grassroots groups in order to put the people back in charge in states across the country.
Rick Manning
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