One of the great ironies of the Obama presidency has been that while the president and his liberal allies rail incessantly against income inequality, income inequality has actually gotten worse over the past seven years. The gains from this sluggish economic “recovery” have gone disproportionately to the much-maligned “one percent,” and cronyism - well-connected special interests profiting from government policy - seems to be out of control.
These are problems that bother Americans of all political ideologies, especially those outside the Washington Beltway who feel as though they are being left behind.
Enter America’s labor unions and the bosses who control them.
SEIU protesters in California. (Image Source: SEIU.org)
Labor unions and their leadership claim to stand up for America’s working class. They harken back to the victories achieved by unions decades ago, and liken those accomplishments to their political and policy goals of today.
Unfortunately, today’s labor unions are a far cry from what they once were, and this departure is accentuated by the hypocrisy of union leadership.
Rather than represent workers on the job site, these days it seems as though unions are more focused on electing progressive politicians, criticizing employers, and advocating against public policies that would actually benefit and empower working families. At the same time, union bosses are living the life of “the one percent” while simultaneously railing against them and claiming to fight for average Americans.
According to a recent report from Jason Hart of Watchdog.org, 448 union officials were paid $250,000 or more in 2015. To make matters worse, much of the money came through forcible payments from working Americans without a say in the matter, because they live in one of 24 states in which union dues are mandatory in many workplaces.
In a free society, no one should be criticized for how much money they make, as it generally correlates to the value they provide to others. But the irony is worth noting when union bosses are living large off of forced dues with no accountability - the dues that fund those exorbitant salaries will come in regardless of whether the union does a good or bad job serving its members.
Furthermore, unions have every right to engage in the political and public policy process. But it is worth noting that they often support policies and politicians that union members oppose, and the policies for which they advocate often benefit themselves at the expense of the workers they claim to represent.
Take right-to-work, for example. This commonsense policy would make all union dues and fees voluntary - a basic defense of the freedom of association. Workers deserve to have the choice to leave the union and keep their hard-earned dollars when they feel the union is no longer adequately representing them, which seems to be the case for many workers as union membership plummets and political spending skyrockets.
Right-to-work is supported by a huge majority of the country, but union bosses and their political allies oppose it because it could mean less money, power and influence.
Similarly, education unions oppose popular, commonsense reforms like merit pay for teachers and school choice for families. Merit pay would allow school districts to properly reward good teachers and fire bad ones - like the ones who show up to school drunk three times but currently are allowed to keep their jobs anyway. Disagreeing with the union was the impetus behind California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs’ lawsuit that reached the Supreme Court and could have awarded all public employees right-to-work protection. Contract disputes are also what led the Chicago Teachers Union to go on strike this month, depriving more than 350,000 mostly black and Hispanic students of badly-needed time in the classroom and sending them out into Chicago’s crime-ridden streets instead.
Common-sense policy reforms would put more money in the pockets of the working class, empower workers on the job site, and leave their families better off - exactly the purported purpose of labor unions. But it seems that many union bosses are more interested in enriching and empowering themselves and their political allies than in fighting for the working class and the American Dream.
Fortunately, the American people are realizing the irony. Workers are holding union bosses accountable by leaving their unions, and state policymakers are passing popular reforms like right-to-work and school choice -- and are being rewarded accordingly at the ballot box.
But there is always more that can be done at the state level, such as passing legislation requiring periodic union recertification votes. It is also high time Congress follow states’ lead and pass labor reform at the federal level through legislation like Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Tom Price’s Employee Rights Act.
These and other reforms are the only way lawmakers can ensure that in the 21st century, no one in America is forced to support the hypocrisy of Big Labor’s politics.
Akash Chougule is the Director of Policy at Americans for Prosperity, the nation’s largest free-market grassroots advocacy organization with over 2.8 million activists across all 50 states. He specializes in labor, healthcare, and education policy.
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