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Union Facts

Use of Dues for Politics

voteEvery day, millions of union members have money taken from their paychecks to support some union presidents’ political agenda. In 1996, Rutgers economics professor Leo Troy estimated that union political expenditures totaled about $500 million in each election cycle. More recently, the National Institute for Labor Relations Research estimated that total union political expenditures reached $925 million in the 2004 cycle. Over time, this has added up: According to The Center for Responsive Politics, eight of the top ten all-time political contributors are labor unions.

Labor leaders have made the use of employee money for political causes a popular practice — but it’s far less popular among the public and the members themselves.

Understand How Unions Spend Member Money in Politics

Use of Member Money for Politics is Unpopular and Misunderstood

  • 68 percent of registered voters say they are concerned that public employee unions have too much influence over politicians who, when elected, must negotiate with these groups. (FOX News Poll conducted by Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) | March 14-16, 2011)
  • 66 percent of government and private union employees say it is unreasonable that union leaders across America can spend their dues on politics without getting their approval. (The Word Doctors | October 26-28, 2010)
  • 89 percent of private and government union employees agree that union workers should have the right to know how their dues money is being spent and believe the Department of Labor should disclose union spending on the Internet to ensure accountability. (The Word Doctors | October 26-28, 2010)
  • 89 percent of private and government union employees agree that union workers should have the right to know how their dues money is being spent and believe the Department of Labor should disclose union spending on the Internet to ensure accountability. (The Word Doctors | October 26-28, 2010)
  • 69 percent of private and government union employees believe union officials need to stop spending union dues on partisan politics and invest it in creating more jobs, as well as focus on the membership, not the elections. (The Word Doctors | October 26-28, 2010)
  • Use of members’ money for political goals was second only to corruption as the reasons Americans disapproved of unions, according to a 2004 Zogby poll.
    • That poll also found that 63 percent of all employees, and 61 percent of unionized employees, agreed that union members shouldn’t be forced to contribute.
  • A McLaughlin & Associates poll indicated that 67 percent of workers were unaware of their right to withhold mandatory dues for politics.

Against Members’ Politics

  • A November 2008 exit poll conducted by Peter D. Hart Research found that 67 percent of union members voted to elect Democrat Barack Obama president, compared to 30 percent who voted for Republican John McCain.
  • CNN exit polls showed that 38 percent of union members voted for President Bush in the 2004 election, but more than 95 percent of union funds went to support Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry.
  • A 1999 Zogby poll found a majority of union members—nearly 55 percent—thought people should be given a choice of investing their Social Security taxes in some form of personal retirement accounts. But union officials spent millions of dollars to oppose private accounts in the Social Security system.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle reported: “California unions spent $88,000 (public employee unions’ share was $68,000) in opposing Proposition 22, a 2000 ballot initiative that defined marriage as between a man and a woman”; a Los Angeles Times exit poll found that 58 percent of union households had voted yes on the measure. TheChronicle added: “California unions spent $32.7 million (public employee unions’ share was $25.7 million) to oppose the recall of former Gov. Gray Davis, yet exit polls found half of union members voted for the recall and 56 percent voted for a Republican candidate to replace him—43 percent for Schwarzenegger and 13 percent for Tom McClintock.”
  • In 1992, the Teamsters reportedly gave a massive amount of political money to the presidential candidate it knew its membership did not support. According to author Duke Zeller, “As for the actual amount of Teamster money poured into the Clinton-Gore campaign, Gene Giacumbo, a former elected member of [former Teamsters president Ron] Carey’s board, believes the total figure to be even higher. ‘Carey himself bragged to me that the union gave $56 million to Clinton,’ he confirmed, ‘and this was after an independent, outside poll the union paid for showed the membership responses preferred Perot, then Bush, with Clinton in third place.’”

Do Teachers Have a Lot to Learn?

  • Between 1990 and 2010, 93 percent of donations made by National Education Association political action committees and individual officers went to Democrats, according to OpenSecrets.org. According to the NEA’s own “Status of the American Public School Teacher 2005-2006,” (latest available data produced March 2010) only 41 percent of public school teachers are Democrats. A Wall Street Journal editorial revealed that the National Education Association — the nation’s largest teachers union — “is spending the mandatory dues paid by members who are told their money will be used to gain better wages, benefits and working conditions. According to the latest filing, member dues accounted for $295 million of the NEA’s $341 million in total receipts last year. But the union spent $25 million of that on ‘political activities and lobbying’ and another $65.5 million on ‘contributions, gifts and grants’ that seemed designed to further those hyper-liberal political goals.”
  • The Journal added that the NEA’s financial disclosure forms “expose the union as a honey pot for left-wing political causes that have nothing to do with teachers, much less students.”

For more information about the political donations of a specific union, click here.