What’s really at stake in the Wisconsin budget showdown? Are big corporations trying to wipe out the middle class, as union activists claimed in between comparisons of Governor Scott Walker to Adolf Hitler and chasing down Republican legislators in the halls of the capital? Or are Democrats trying desperately to cling to closed-shop rules that allow them to fill their campaign coffers through union bosses who profit greatly from their elections? John Henry of the Center for Public Integrity answers that question in today’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
Union treasuries – filled by dues paid by union members – not only fund programs benefiting union members and their families. The money they collect also pays six-figure compensation packages for labor leaders and provides millions of dollars for Democratic causes and candidates.
The Center for Public Integrity found compensation for leaders of the 10 largest unions ranged from $173,000 at the United Auto Workers to $618,000 at the Laborers’ International Union of North America, and almost $480,000 for the president of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees. The latter is the target of GOP governors in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Kansas.
The union reports, filed with the Department of Labor, list compensation for all union employees and officers. Salaries make up the biggest portion, but other benefits can include tens of thousands of dollars for meal allowances, mileage allowances and entertainment. Health care and pension contributions are not specifically addressed.
The reports show that assets of the various labor unions run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, and payrolls rival midsize companies. Among the Top 10 unions, dozens of top officials have salary-and-benefit packages that rank them among the top percentage of income-earners in the country.
Remember, these entities produce no products on their own. They run the labor that produces products and services for investors (in the private sector) and for taxpayers (in the public sector). In the private sector, consumers can choose to “look for the union label” or to avoid it, and have the option of buying non-union when the price of products and services from union shops gets too high.
Taxpayers don’t have that choice. First, the government has no profit motive to protect, making contentious bargaining with PEUs more political trouble than it’s worth, at least until now. Furthermore, AFSCME and other PEUs don’t have the adversarial relationship with “management” that unions in the private sector do, thanks to unions such as AFSCME essentially hiring the management through the use of millions of dollars in forced dues payments (collected by the state!) for campaign funds for favored politicians, almost exclusively Democrats these days. When their pet politicians get elected, they inevitably cave to PEU demands, sticking taxpayers with an ever-higher bill for monopolized products and services, and with no way to opt out of the “union label” except to move out of the state.
Does this pay off for union bosses? You bet it does, and at the expense of the taxpayers:
The membership of AFSCME, which evolved from a state employees union organized in Wisconsin in 1932, has grown by 25% over the last decade. [Gerald] McEntee, who has been president since 1981, says more than 145,000 government employees have joined AFSCME since 2006.
That makes McEntee a powerful political force, although not powerful enough to overcome widespread disgust at the cycle of spending in government. AFSCME sunk over $40,000 into the campaign of Tom Barrett, Walker’s opponent in 2010. The top ten donors to Barrett’s campaigns were unions.
Barrett still lost, because taxpayers discovered the one feedback loop they still had to break the PEU-Democratic money cycle: their votes. And now Wisconsin’s fleebagging state Senators have hijacked even that in an attempt to protect their union gravy train. Those are the real stakes in this standoff.