Across the nation, states, counties, and municipalities are facing a fiscal calamity. Even before the 2008 economic meltdown, many states were facing a sea of red ink due to over-promising, poor fiscal planning, and too much political influence from government union bosses. Now, as politicians of both parties grapple with the mess created by years of passing the buck, they are faced with taxpayers revolting on the right, businesses fleeing union-dominated states and radicalized government unions on the left.
In addition to the headline-grabbing Republican governors Chris Christie (NJ), John Kasich (OH), Rick Scott (FL), Rick Snyder (MI) and Scott Walker (WI), Democrat governors are also finding themselves increasingly in the crosshairs of government union bosses—most notably from the government union bosses at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). All too often, AFSCME’s response to the budget shortfalls in the various states where it operates is to clamor for more taxes, even when so many taxpayers are tired of an already-crushing tax burden.
AFSCME: Big Government Bully or Ward of the State?
In Illinois, prior to his reelection, Governor Pat Quinn negotiated $75 million worth of raises for state workers, only to rescind the promised increases after he was reelected due to a lack of money. Now, AFSCME bosses are suing Quinn in court for breaking his pre-election promise. If AFSCME is successful, with no money to fund the increases, Illinois politicians will have to make some tough decisions—do they lay off more employees? Or, do lawmakers pass the costs on to Illinois taxpayers who are still reeling from a 67% income tax hike earlier this year?
In Connecticut, the state’s union-friendly Democrat governor, Daniel Malloy, raised taxes a record $2.6 billion on all taxpayers earning more than $50,000. His budget plan was contingent getting the state’s government unions to agree to concessions. However, the unions—principally AFSCME—balked at the concessions. Now, without a deal, Malloy has announced he is laying off 6,500 government employees and closing motor vehicles branches, welfare offices, as well as other state services.
“This agreement reflects the financial reality of the times,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “I am pleased that we could avoid these layoffs, protect the work force and the taxpayer.”
The union federation’s president, Kenneth Brynien, made clear that the impending layoffs were a driving force in reaching the deal.
In Maryland, though, the politicians continue to reward union bosses while delaying the inevitable. While the state has a $33 billion pension shortfall, AFSCME bosses received a windfall, courtesy of the politicians who passed a “fair share” bill requiring all non-members covered by a collective bargaining agreement to pay $360 yearly to the union, netting the union up to $4.7 million per year.
Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin—center-stage of the fight over government union power—AFSCME thugs began bullying business owners with threats of boycotts if businesses did not display pro-union signs in their windows. This occurred even as AFSCME bosses were selling out their members by negotiating concessionary contracts to keep their dues flowing.
Government Union Power is Dependent on Dues
Unions collect more than eight billion dollars per year in union dues. As private-sector union membership has dwindled to a mere 6.9%, government unions have overtaken their private-sector counterparts in both power and political influence. As NY AFSCME boss Victor Gotbaum once declared: “We have the ability, in a sense, to elect our own boss.”
Last year, Larry Scanlon, the AFSCME’s Director of Political Operations raised eyebrows when he spoke of his union’s spending $87.5 million on the 2010 mid-term elections.
Scanlon’s matter-of-fact non-boast of AFSCME’s political expenditures came as something of a surprise to those who may not yet have been familiar with unions’ influence in the political process. However, the fact that union bosses (in general) spent nearly $2.2 billion of their members’ money on politics from 2007 through 2010 (including $1.1 billion on the 2010 election cycle) is not at all surprising to union watchers. As it turns out, AFSCME was the biggest dog in the pack during the 2010 mid-term elections.
According to Duquesne University Professor Anthony Davies, union bosses have given twice as much money to politicians as the telecommunications, insurance, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, and real estate industries combined. However, that is really no surprise either.
Mr. Scanlon, who has run elections for AFSCME for nearly 15 years, acknowledged the connection between the number of government jobs and the union’s political clout. “The more members coming in, the more dues coming in, the more money we have for politics,” Mr. Scanlon said. AFSCME’s membership has grown 25% in the past decade.
Since the growth of government unions has come at a premium price, paid for by taxpayers, it is ultimately the union members who are experiencing the wrath of those who foot the bill. As understanding grows about the fiscal nightmare AFSCME bosses (as well as other government union bosses) and their political puppets have placed states, counties and municipalities in, many taxpayers across the country are completely fed up with the power government unions wield.
In fact, as AFSCME members across the country face layoffs, concessions at the bargaining table, and ridicule from an angry and unsympathetic electorate, about the only ones who have not suffered are the AFSCME bosses themselves.
In Florida, for example, AFSCME bused members to the statehouse to protest the legislature’s move to stop the state from collecting union dues. As ridiculous as it seems, however, while Florida state workers have not had pay increases in several years, the president of AFSCME District Council 79, Jeanette Wynn, saw her salary increase 18% from 2009 to 2010, to over $150,000. In fact, Ms. Wynn has averaged $9,700 worth of salary increases every year since 2006–a far cry more than the government workers she represents received. It’s little wonder why Ms. Wynn and the rest of the AFSCME bosses are protesting efforts to remove the collection of union dues.
At AFSCME’s headquarters in Washington, over the last five years, according to reports on file with the US Dept. of Labor, AFSCME members’ dues have paid the union’s pinstripe-suit wearing president Gerald McEntee nearly $3 million. During that same period, from 2006 through 2010, AFSCME’s now-retired secretary-treasurer William Lucy was paid over $2.3 million. In fact, in 2010, in addition to paying Lucy’s replacement, Lee Saunders, over $179,000, AFSCME paid Lucy $847,810.
It’s time for Congress to pass legislation that gives shareholders a voice in how top corporate executives are paid and a chance to elect directors who will represent shareholder interests. We need bold action to bring these rampant abuses to an end.
McEntee’s call on Congress to pass legislation that would give shareholders a voice on executive compensation is more than AFSCME’s top boss gives to his own members. Yet, the government union boss is unrepentant on his own fat cat lifestyle, which is paid for the union dues taken from workers (sometimes against their will) who are paid by governments funded through taxpayers’ money.
As states, counties and municipalities wrestle with the havoc wrought by AFSCME’s influence in the pushing politicians who pass unsustainable debt onto taxpayers’ shoulders, perhaps it’s time for Congress to pass legislation giving taxpayers a say on how much of their taxes should be funneled back to government union bosses to line their pin-striped pockets.
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