Labor unions are losing influence, popularity and the fight over labor policy in many states. To soften their fall, unions have dramatically increased political spending.
A study from the Center for Public Integrity shows labor unions have notably increased political spending nationally in the first half of 2013. During the six-month period, unions contributed $10 million to super political action committees, or PACs, surpassing corporate giving to those groups.
As union influence wanes, super PACs have become a common outlet for political spending. The 2010 Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, which examined first amendment rights of differing groups and limits on non-profit’s political activities, opened the door for unlimited contributions from corporations, individuals, and other entities.
Here’s a deeper look at the motivation for increased union contributions to super PACs.
- Public opinion – According to a new Rasmussen poll regarding opinions on labor unions, more Americans have an unfavorable view than positive. 44 percent of the public views unions favorably. Polls also show more Americans than not believe the economy will improve with the implementation of Right-to-Work laws, allowing workers the freedom to choose whether they join a union. Right-to-Work laws have caused problems for union bosses, as workers have been leaving unions in droves when given a choice.
- Union membership is down – National trends show that the number of households identifying as union in the past 35 years has been cut in half, dropping to 18 percent in 2012 from 34 percent in 1978. When looking at the private sector, only 6.6 percent of workforce is unionized.
- Rifts over politics – There seems to be infighting between unions over support of public policy. For example, AFL-CIO’s support of the Obama administration’s position on immigration and health care forced leaders of the 40,000 member International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union to cut ties with AFL-CIO altogether.
- State labor reforms – In recent years, the tides of state policy have seemed to turn against dominant union power. In the past few years, states such as Michigan and Indiana have adopted Right-to-Work legislation, with Missouri and Ohio possibly close behind. Meanwhile, Wisconsin severely limited the power of public bargaining agreements. The trend of recent state policy reforms has been toward a more liberated workforce.
The trends are not in Big Labor’s favor – and these groups are not standing idly by. The unions are fighting a losing battle though, as the public is becoming aware of the benefits of a freer economy and greater workers’ rights.
Justin Hagey is Policy Research Analyst at the Illinois Policy Institute