The Public Sector Union War on Democracy

Edward Ring

Director, Water and Energy Policy

Edward Ring
March 5, 2013

The Public Sector Union War on Democracy

“Shadowbosses, Government Unions Control America and Rob Taxpayers Blind,” was published in August 2012. Written by Mallory Factor, a professor of politics at The Citadel and Forbes columnist, this book ought to be required reading for every American.

Two weeks ago, Factor was a guest speaker at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s 2013 West Coast Retreat in Southern California. A video and transcript are available on the website of

While delivering his remarks, Factor touched on many of the issues explored in great depth in his book, but spent most of his time discussing the recent presidential election. Many of the facts he presented are hard to find, and based on very recent data. Here are some of them:

  • Less than seven percent of private sector workers are now union members.  But among the 20.5 million government workers, 42 percent are represented by a union.
  • Many of our vital national security employees are unionized — border patrol agents, FEMA, immigration and customs agents, TSA and civilian military personnel. Twenty percent of our entire military, our Defense Department’s workforce; 60 percent of our civilian military, and over 40 percent of Homeland Security is unionized.
  • Unions spent $500 million on President Obama’s reelection campaign.  A single union, the SEIU, spent $74 million to reelect President Obama, dwarfing spending by any PAC.
  • AFL-CIO registered more than 450,000 new voters leading up to the election.  AFL-CIO volunteers knocked on almost 14 million doors nationwide during the election.  The AFL-CIO has pledged to build a long-term year-round mobilization structure.
  • The real story in the 2012 election was about what the Citizens United case did for the unions, not the corporations. As a result of the Citizens United decision, unions can buy advertising and campaign materials for candidates using their immense dues income – over $14 billion a year.  For the first time in this election, unions were able to canvass and call voters who were not their members as a result of the changes under Citizens United.  All these changes meant that unions could vastly increase their voter canvassing and reach in battleground states to union and nonunion voters alike.
  • In the battleground states, unions overloaded the political landscape with volunteers, many of whom they actually paid for their efforts.  Unions put 400,000 members on the streets to work for Obama.
  • Unions have changed their historic approach to immigrants and immigration.  Up through the 1970s, unions were openly hostile to immigrants.  But now unions are treating the 11 million undocumented workers as potential union members and recruiting them.
  • The SEIU has committed 2.1 million members for the fight for immigration reform and is planning extensive lobbying, rallies and member education on immigration.
  • Nationwide unions have gained a net of 156,000 Latino members in 2012, many of them immigrants.  That also is about $150 million in additional dues. While union membership declined in many states, union membership grew in California and in right-to-work states with large Latino populations like Texas and other Southwestern states. Meanwhile, during 2012, unions lost 547,000 white members.
  • An agreement between the Department of Homeland Security and the Labor Department actually requires this — if a union and an employer are engaged in a dispute over organizing workers, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency is barred from pursuing an immigration investigation of the workplace under this agreement.

Here in California, two reminders of public sector union power are on display this week. The Los Angeles mayoral election, where every viable candidate is backed by public sector union money, and the GOP state convention this past weekend in Sacramento, where law enforcement unions launched a determined effort to win the hearts and minds of Republicans. In both cases, the message is clear – public sector unions are the only viable political actors left in California, and the political battles left to fight center around which public sector union will dominate the other.

The problem with this, of course, is that public sector unions operate within a monopoly, our government, where there are no market constraints on how much they can demand in wages and compensation. Moreover, when government workers exercise inordinate influence over the government, through their unions, there is an intrinsic conflict of interests between what programs best serve the general public, and what programs benefit government workers.

The consequences are plain to see – government workers make twice as much in pay and benefits as the average private sector worker. They are effectively immune to the forces of globalization that necessarily challenge every other worker in the world, and their unions use their influence to retain for them economic privileges that it would be utterly impossible to grant to every American worker. Most chilling, in California these unions have succeeded in completely neutralizing the business community, wielding their superior political power to enforce a corporatist detente with the most powerful, monopolistic business entities, especially within the financial sector and the public utilities.

Public sector unions have turned government workers against their working brethren in the private sector. They have made a travesty of representative government and undermined faith in government itself. Their rhetoric about supporting “working families” is hypocritical hogwash, evidenced by the absolute impossibility of providing all workers with anything even approaching the level of pay and benefits they enjoy. Meanwhile, to cover these unsustainable payrolls, services are cut, taxes go up, and government borrowing continues unabated.

We might repeat the familiar, absolutely valid tropes, as Mallory Factor did, stating yet again that even pro-labor politicians like FDR, and heroes of the labor movement, like George Meany, understood that unions do not belong in the public sector. But even in America, words, however true, cannot compete with the impact of $14 billion per year in forced union dues, applied relentlessly to a single political agenda.

*   *   * is edited by Ed Ring, who can be reached at

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