Questionnaires from the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and other powerful labor groups are probing candidates for the congressional seat vacated by Ed Markey about their stances on issues that span the liberal spectrum, from immigration reform to Obamacare to green energy and statehood for Washington, D.C.
"The major advances of the Affordable Care Act must be secured. … If elected, would you work to defend and build upon the landmark comprehensive health reform law, the Affordable Care Act?" the AFL-CIO asks, according to a questionnaire published online by state Sen. Will Brownsberger, a candidate for Markey’s seat.
The questionnaire does not mention the fact that Massachusetts received a waiver from Obamacare requirements, while national AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka called the law’s implementation "troubling." The Nevada chapter of the AFL-CIO blasted Obamacare because it threatened its union benefits.
"The unintended consequences of the [Affordable Care Act] will lead to the destruction of the 40-hour work week, higher taxes, and force union members onto more costly plans— eventually destroying [union health plans] completely," the resolution states.
AFL-CIO Massachusetts also asks candidates, "If elected, would you oppose any effort to exclude more workers from the protections of the 40-hour workweek?"
The AFL-CIO did not return calls for comment.
More than 1,200 businesses, unions, and other entities received exemptions to Obamacare implementation requirements. Many of the labor unions negotiated healthcare plans with superior benefits to the national legislation.
Service Employees International Union, which represents mostly healthcare and government workers, and the American Federation of Teachers asked similar questions about healthcare and the individual mandate in their questionnaires, which were also posted to Brownsberger’s campaign website. Several SEIU locals, as well as the union’s Health and Welfare Fund, are exempt from Obamacare.
Questionnaires are an important metric to securing lucrative union endorsements in the seven-Democrat primary field.
Unions spent $1.7 billion on political activities in the 2012 cycle, the highest of any special interest group, according to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research (NILRR).
The group analyzed union filings with the Department of Labor and the Federal Election Commission and found that union spending on activities ranging from direct contributions, volunteering, and lobbying efforts increased more than 20 percent from 2010.
"Unions may not collect as much money as they used to, but they spend a higher and higher share on politics and lobbying and are thus able to continue to be a very powerful interest group," NILRR researcher Stan Greer said. "When you take all the kinds of union electioneering and lobbying expenditures into account, they are almost certainly by far the biggest spending interest group in U.S. politics."
The questions run the gamut of liberal special interests, asking the candidates about their positions on green energy and immigration reform—policies that could secure union jobs, as well as increase labor’s recruiting potential.
The AFL-CIO’s final question is the most telling of all, according to Greer.
"More than 500,000 U.S. citizens live in our nation's capital and fulfill the responsibilities of citizenship every day … they have no voting representation in the U.S. Congress. This intolerable situation is an affront to the very principles of democracy we hold dear," the union states. "If elected, would you support legislation that would partially remedy this grave injustice by allowing the delegate elected by citizens of the District of Columbia to vote in the House of Representatives?"
While the issue may not be of concern to the average union member, it is a good way of securing another reliably Democratic seat in the House of Representatives.
"Nowadays there’s a much more strict ideological viewpoint across the board among union officials," Greer said. "It reflects the views not of membership, but the majority of labor leaders."
Fred Wszolek, spokesman for the Workforce Fairness Institute, said union officials have moved further to the left in recent years in order to maintain a prominent force in American politics.
"This has be been a major complaint among union members in recent year; their money is funneled to all these causes that have nothing to do with being a union member," he said. "They can get away with it in Massachusetts because it's not a right-to-work state; they have to join the union and pay dues."