John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO and member of the Democratic Socialists of America, must have mixed emotions. The bad news for him is that union membership as a percentage of the nation’s total private-sector workforce peaked in the 1950s at about 40% and has dropped to 7.9% today.
That devastating decline recently motivated four of Sweeney’s major international union affiliates—United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Teamsters, Service Employees International Union, and Unite Here—to sever their AFL-CIO membership ties. Sweeney’s federation thereby lost 5 million dues-paying members, constituting more than one-third of his AFL-CIO roster.
Sweeney’s good news—quietly endorsed by the liberal national media—is the reverse-trend: Today, 37.2% of government workers throughout the nation are represented by labor organizations. And the number is expanding steadily.
For many years, public-sector unionism was opposed both by leaders of the AFL-CIO and union-friendly U.S. Presidents. But in 1978, the Civil Service Reform Act was passed by Congress. Under this statute, federal government unions have exclusive power to negotiate (to be paid out of the earnings of taxpayers) employee benefits and working conditions of the nation’s largest employer: the U.S. government. Many states and municipalities began to conform, and today about four out of every 10 Americans work for some government.
“Without any doubt, government employment has become the growth industry for organized labor,” says David Denholm, noted authority on public-sector unionism and president of the Public Service Research Foundation. “When union membership as a percentage of the nation’s total work force began to decline and the number of people employed by government began to grow, labor officials saw the public sector as the solution to the membership dues dollars and political clout they were losing in the private sector.”
According to Leo Troy, distinguished professor of economics at Rutgers University, this phenomenon has created “a new unionism that is bringing radical yet unnoticed changes in the economy and society.” They include expansion of the size and scope of government, an increasing role in the formation of public policy, more control of taxpayers’ money, and a diminished role of government sovereignty. Troy also warns that this unchallenged strategy by huge public-sector unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is aided by “collaboration with other social and political forces, principally in the Democratic Party.”
In 1993, for example, President Bill Clinton stealthily issued Executive Order No. 12871. Without fanfare, it emasculated the constitutional, sovereign right of the federal government to unilaterally and independently direct its gigantic workforce for service to America’s taxpayers. The order, titled “Labor-Management Partnerships,” decreed: “The head of each [government] agency shall involve employees and their union representatives as full partners with management representatives to identify problems and solutions to better serve the agency’s customers and mission.”
Karl Marx could not have stated it better.
Fortunately, in the interest of efficient public services and protection of our capitalistic republic, President Bush revoked this radical union co-determination of exclusive government functions upon taking office in 2001. Nevertheless, according to Troy, the not-totally-covert goal of Big Labor and the Democratic Party continues to be a “transfer of income from one group of the population [the capitalistic rich] to another [the proletariat masses] through the economic and social functions of government’s domestic programs.”
This Clintonian class warfare is successful because public-sector unions negotiate “sweetheart” labor agreements with friendly government executives who willingly pass along the cost of these inflated and non-productive workplace entitlements to their customers—the American taxpayers. An incentive for leftist public officeholders to force their government agencies to “go union” is Big Labor’s promise to give the politicians who “cooperate” with it vast sums of tax-free union membership dues dollars to finance their election campaigns.
Partisan politicos also stand to gain thousands of union-controlled “grassroots” campaign helpers who are “allowed” to ignore Hatch Act restraints on such activities during their work time, and influence thousands of favorable votes at the ballot box. Meanwhile, hundreds of dissident rank-and-file union members and the general public are excluded from the undemocratic process and pay dearly for the socialistic results.
Every Liberal’s Smorgasbord
Every year this unreported problem becomes more serious. Among unionized government workers across the United States today (some 12 million in the federal workforce alone) are hundreds of thousands of dedicated Democrats who have long government service records.
Like 90% of an iceberg hidden under water, these lower-level, permanently embedded left-wing radicals sabotage any conservative entrepreneurial policy changes attempted by the heads of their government agencies. Instead, from one administration to the next—regardless of the philosophy of the political party in the White House—entrenched civil servants spin, twist and expand the costly laws that they enforce to favor Big Labor’s goals.
When I testified before a committee of Maryland’s left-wing legislature on this vital issue on behalf of the state’s Chamber of Commerce, these words were ridiculed and/or ignored:
“Labor unions are drastically changing the way governments are administered and the entire public employment relationship, from recruitment to retirement. Experience has demonstrated that once a collective bargaining statute is enacted, there is no turning back from union collectivism—with its inevitable adverse impact on government’s objectives, its budget, its productivity, its essential public services, its taxpayers and its business climate.”
Vanishing in this “socialistic” entitlement scam is the inherent profit-making incentive of private-sector employers and their employees.