California Public Sector Union Revenue Exceeds $1.0 Billion Per Year

Edward Ring

Director, Water and Energy Policy

Edward Ring
September 18, 2012

California Public Sector Union Revenue Exceeds $1.0 Billion Per Year

In today’s Sacramento Bee an article by Jon Ortiz entitled “What California state workers pay in union dues and fees” provided current data on the revenue of unions organizing state workers. It only takes a minor exercise in extrapolation to use this data to estimate the annual revenue of unions organizing all government workers in California, state and local.

The raw data is drawn from the state controllers payroll office and can be downloaded here:

120913 Dues and Fair Share Counts by BU.xlsx

According to this data, in December of 2011 there were 255,078 state employees represented by unions. They paid a total of $16,472,031 in dues that month, which means that over the 12 month period ending in December they paid a total of $197,644,377 in dues. This equates to an average annual union dues assessment of $775 per worker.

If you apply this amount to the reported number of government union members in California’s state and local government agencies, you can estimate the total revenue flowing each year into California’s public sector union treasuries. It is very difficult to get a good estimate of public sector union membership in California, since at the local level there are literally thousands of independent payroll departments which may or may not disclose this information, and other compiled data is scattered among several oversight agencies which themselves are not required to disclose membership data. The California Public Policy Center explores this in depth in their study “Understanding the Financial Disclosure Requirements of Public Sector Unions.” In that article are links to several public sector union “990” forms, turned in annually to the IRS, which are the sole financial reporting documents easily accessed by members of the public. These documents provide only summary level financial data, and nothing on membership or dues.

While the raw data on local public sector union membership is therefore virtually inaccessible, summary information available from the U.S. Census bureau is compiled on the website, an online database, updated annually, that tracks union membership, constructed by Barry Hirsch (Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University) and David Macpherson (Department of Economics, Trinity University). Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they have compiled a variety of interesting data, including “Union Membership, Coverage, Density, and Employment by State and Sector, 1983-2011.” By clicking on the 2011 link provided under this section on the left column of their home page, a table comes up showing union membership by state, with a separate column for public sector union membership. According to this table, there are 1,407,504 dues paying members of public sector unions in California.

Assuming this figure is accurate, estimating total annual dues revenue for California’s public sector unions is relatively straightforward. Multiplying 1,407,504 by $775 equals $1,090,699,318, or not quite $1.1 billion. California’s public sector unions are collecting, and presumably spending, over a billion dollars a year. Since the payroll data provided by the state controller does not include K-12 teachers, nor local police and firefighters, professions where the annual dues are almost always over $1,000 per year, this estimate of $1.0 billion is probably low.

Once one has estimated the total financial resources available to California’s government worker unions each year, the prevailing question then becomes how much of it is used for politics? But it is important to emphasize that when you are talking about unions of government workers, there is a strong argument that all of it is used to exercise political influence. Because if unions aren’t using their funds to contribute directly to politicians, or fund independent expenditure campaigns, or hire lobbyists, they are still spending it to pursue their agenda, through negotiation, litigation, and education. And the entire agenda of government worker unions is explicitly political because it invariably concerns how to manage government agencies – how many people to hire, how much to pay them, their working conditions, and what jobs they may and may not perform.

Unlike corporations, which have narrow agendas that typically compete with each other, which largely cancels out the impact of their political spending, government unions pursue their agenda with monolithic, unchallenged abandon.

In California, the dismal results of $1.0 billion per year of highly focused public sector union spending should be plain for all to see, regardless of their political allegiances.

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