“It’s not about the money,” says University of Wisconsin Associate Professor of Political Science and Law Howard Schweber. Wisconsin Education Association Council President Mary Bell agrees: “This is not about protecting our pay and our benefits. It is about protecting our right to collectively bargain.” Both Scheber and Bell are half right: the fight in Wisconsin is not about the money… of state employees. These workers have already agreed to pay more for their health care and retirement benefits.
But this is about someone’s money … the union’s. Consider that while the unions have very generously volunteered for their state employee members to give up some of their money (in the form of contributions to health and retirement benefits), the government unions themselves haven’t given up a single cent of their union dues. That is what the fight in Wisconsin is all about: preserving the government union direct pipeline to taxpayer dollars. The Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk explains how government unions created this racket:
In the 28 states without right-to-work laws, [which includes Wisconsin], unions negotiate contracts that require government employees to pay union dues or lose their jobs. Unions also negotiate large subsidies for their fundraising. They negotiate for the government to collect union dues through its payroll system. This spares unions the expense of doing their own fundraising.
Without these provisions unions would bring in far less money. Federal law gives most federal employees the choice of belonging to a union. Most choose not to join. The federal unionization rate is only 18 percent—far lower than for states like Wisconsin, where 50 percent of state and local government employees belong to unions.
Nationwide, 5.5 million state and local government employees must either pay union dues or lose their jobs. Forced unionization and government withholding of union dues are the one-two punch of government union monopoly financial power. This fight is about the money, specifically the billions of dollars government unions take directly from their members paychecks. Worse, government unions then turn right around and use that money to lobby for more government. Sherk again:
In the election year of 2008, AFSCME’s national headquarters spent 32 percent of its budget—$63.3 million—on political activities and lobbying. Local AFSCME chapters spent millions more. Government-employee unions now spend more than any other outside group on U.S. elections. Of the five largest spenders in the 2010 election cycle outside of political parties, three were unions that represent government employees. AFSCME took the top spot, spending $91 million to elect its members’ bosses. That total dwarfed the Chamber of Commerce’s $75 million, and the $65 million raised by Republican Party-allied groups.
Government unions use this power to campaign for higher taxes and more government employees— in order to increase union membership and the amount of money flowing to the union from dues. They are the driving force behind most campaigns to raise taxes and prevent budget cuts. They attempt to make government expansion the path of least political resistance. If politicians refuse to support this agenda, government unions will use their power to defeat them.
At times they state this openly. A Service Employees International Union (SEIU) representative told California legislators that “We helped to get you into office, and we got a good memory. And come November, if you don’t back our program, we’ll help get you out of office.” Collective bargaining has thoroughly politicized the civil service in many states. Increasingly—and contrary to basic democratic principles—it is union leaders, not elected officials, who essentially decide how much taxes people pay, and how the government will spend those taxes.