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Big Trouble for Little Labor

Big Trouble for Little Labor
By Rick Manning – Fewer and f ewer Americans are
represented by labor unions with only 6.6 percent of
private sector workers belonging to organized labor in
2012 according to a survey released by the f ederal
government last week.
The stunning drop in private sector labor union
membership over the past ten years parallels organized
labor’s decision to engage in massive political
expenditures designed to elect supposed pro-labor
candidates to of f ice.
Since 2002, union membership dropped by more than 1.75
million with the losses almost exclusively occurring since 2008. Ironically, these losses almost directly
coincide with when the impacts f rom one of organized labor’s greatest political successes of the decade
kicked in — the election of the Pelosi-Reid Congress.
The plummeting number of private sector union members, and there are now more public employees who are
union members than private sector employees, means that the labor union leaders will be f orced into the
choice between supporting policies that increase their public sector base, which harm opportunities to create
private sector jobs f or their members.
The f act that Richard Trumka, the f ormer head of the United Mine Workers union, who now heads the AFLCIO,
was an emphatic supporter of President Obama’s re-election while the mine workers (AFL-CIO
af f iliated) remained neutral in the race points out this internal tension. Obama’s aggressive anti-mining
stance through both the EPA and the Department of Interior has made the President a pariah in coal
country. Yet, when push came to shove, those who go into the mines were disregarded by their union
brethren whose bigger f ish to f ry are solely related to expanding the size and scope of government.
While the decline of the private sector union employee has political implications, it also most importantly may
f orce a change in the f ocus of those very labor leaders who purport to lead them.
The dirty little secret within the labor union world is that many of these very unions which are spending
millions upon millions of dollars to elect candidates who are killing their members’ jobs have a dif f erent
problem — dramatically underf unded pension systems.
In 2012, the Labor Department listed 212 private sector labor unionsas being critically underf unded. The
notice specif ically states the danger, “The Fund is in critical status (red zone) as of January 1, 2012… This
means that contributions will not be enough to meet government standards f or f unding promised benef its
plus those that participants are currently earning.”
Among the big name unions that have either national or local pensions clinging on the edge of not being able
to meet their basic responsibilities to their own members are: the International Brotherhood of Teamsters,
the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
(IBEW), and the United Food and Commercial Union. Note that many of these unions are AFL-CIO af f iliated.
Literally hundreds of thousands of workers’ pensions are being short changed by the labor unions
themselves while those same unions spend millions on promoting the very political agenda that is killing their
themselves while those same unions spend millions on promoting the very political agenda that is killing their
members’ jobs.
In 2010, desperate union of f icials like Jimmy Hof f a, Jr. pushed hard to get union pensions bailed out by
putting the taxpayers on the hook f or a portion of the benef it costs. With the election of a Republican-led
House of Representatives, that ef f ort was sidelined and the issue of union pensions’ impending def ault on
their members’ retirement payments was pushed aside.
Today, Congress and states should act on protecting these workers and pensioners by requiring that labor
unions bring all of their local af f iliates’ pensions systems up to 100 percent f unding levels, bef ore they can
spend one dime on politics.
The more than 93 percent of non-union taxpayers should not, and cannot af f ord to, bail out the labor
unions who have f ailed to meet their basic f iduciary responsibilities to their members.
To continue to allow these labor leaders to continue to spend money that rightf ully should be paying f or
their members’ pensions on greasing political palms would be unconscionable.
When union retirees f ind themselves getting twenty cents on the dollar they were promised f or retirement,
they will only have their own labor leaders to blame. A group that has chosen to pursue craven politics at the
expense of their own members’ basic needs.
And perhaps that attitude by labor leaders explains more than anything else, the choice that workers are
making all over America to reject union membership and the declining private sector union rolls that result.
Rick Manning (@rmanning957) is the Vice President of Public Policy and Communications at Americans for
Limited Government and a former public affairs chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Labor.

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