America's largest union plans on spending more on politics than any other budget item.
AFL-CIO is expected to dedicate 35 percent of its spending on political causes and donations, according to a budget document leaked to Splinter News. The budget, which was unanimously approved by the union's executive council, sets aside $40 million for political purposes—a $15 million increase from the amount it spent on politics and lobbying according to its most recent federal filings. Political expenditures will eight times higher than the $5 million it plans to spend on "economic power and growth."
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The leaked document sparked criticism from Republican lawmakers and labor watchdogs. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.), the top Republican on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said that the emphasis on politics demonstrates the disconnect between workers and labor officials. Union households helped elect Donald Trump, particularly in Rust Belt states, but AFL-CIO's endorsements and spending continue to overwhelmingly favor Democrats. Foxx expects that behavior to continue in the lead up to the 2020 presidential election.
"With more Democrats in Congress, Big Labor is only going to sink more money—the dues of their remaining hardworking members—into politics," Foxx said. "The more Labor bosses use union dues for partisan purposes and to build and protect their own power, the more workers are going to walk away, as well they should."
The AFL-CIO did not respond to request for comment.
Labor unions spent more than $1 billion on political and lobbying activities during the 2018 midterm elections, topping the amount spent in 2016. Almost all of union donations benefitted Democrats, who were able to recapture controlled of the House of Representatives for the first time since 2011. The AFL-CIO spent about $24.4 million during the 2017-18 fiscal year, about 18 percent of its total expenditures. Labor watchdogs said the latest budget demonstrates that unions will continue to focus on politics, rather than trying to win over new members or advocate for current ones.
Patrick Semmens, a spokesman for the National Right to Work Foundation, said labor officials have detected the benefits of having political allies in positions of power. The new Democratic majority has already introduced legislation to ban right to work laws that forbid mandatory union payments as a condition of employment.
"Once again Big Labor is doubling down on politics with the goal of getting friendly legislators to grant them more coercive power over America's workforce," Semmens said. "This is a bet that more money funneled into politics can expand their forced dues ranks without having to actually go out and convince workers to join unions voluntarily, and of course their number one goal is wiping out the 27 state Right to Work laws."
F. Vincent Vernuccio, a labor relations consultant, said the union has chosen a cost-effective approach to growth. Organizing campaigns to convince workers to vote in a union can be costly, but forcing union objectors to pay mandatory dues only requires the support of a handful of lawmakers. Vernuccio said this approach could alienate current members who expect their dues money to be spent on collective bargaining and their own representation, rather than filling the coffers of lobbyists and politicians.
"The AFL-CIO's budget shows that politics is their top priority," he said. "The question for their members is do they want to support a union that puts politics above representation."
The Trump administration has already taken steps to prevent the improper use of dues money. The National Labor Relations Board, the nation's top federal labor arbiter, issued an advisory that unions could no longer charge objectors for lobbying expenses. That regulatory interpretation could be overturned by future administrations.
Foxx said that the AFL-CIO budget points to the need for labor reform to ensure that dissenters are not forced to subsidize political activities. She wants to see Congress take action rather than relying on regulators.
"This is yet more proof that labor laws need reform that puts workers first," she said.