How unions use members’ dues




screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-12-18-24-pmThe part of union money and influence that is little known and receives little attention is union “trust” assets.

In the private sector unions and employers participate in so-called “Taft-Hartley Trusts” to provide retirement benefits, health care, and in some cases other “fringe” benefits to union members.

The union and the employer negotiate the amount that the employer will contribute to the “trust,” and the trust is theoretically jointly run by the union and the employer(s).

The reality is that the trusts are run by the unions and employers take little interest.   Many are bankrupt or have been placed under federal supervision, most are underfunded, but they represent a huge amount of money that doesn’t have the legal strictures that apply to dues money.

Rest assured that a lot of trust money was behind enacting ObamaCare, and a lot of trust money gets spent on lobbying and on conferences in warm, stylish places.

The structure varies in the public sector because it is a creature of state or local law, but the principles are the same.

The sheer amount of the money involved allows the unions to bully banks and credit unions and the numbers of members involved allow them to bully service providers. If the Bank of Podunk is contemplating providing financing for a commercial building, the union just calls the bank president and says: “If that project isn’t built union, we’re pulling our trust money out of your bank.”

Just to give some perspective, the Alaska State Employees Association has maybe 8,500 members. The State pays into a “trust” with which ASEA buys health insurance for the bargaining unit members.  It is hard to find the exact amount the State pays, but I’m estimating about $1,300 per member per month.

That is $1 million bucks a month, $13-and -change million a year that ASEA, a small union by national standards, can run through whatever bank or credit union it chooses.

Bankers will do a lot of things for a depositor that runs that kind of money through their bank; think what they might do for a depositor that runs billions through their bank.

Then there are dues monies. It is black-letter law illegal to use compelled dues money to play politics and has been since 1986. But then, adultery is still illegal in lots of places; and that must be why nobody ever does it.

Only in the most corrupt “Blue” places do unions use dues money for direct political contributions or actions in support of a particular candidate. Even if you bought the governor or attorney general, if they know for a fact that you illegally spent dues money, then they own you. And if they own you and you oppose their agenda, the attorney general would make the union head’s life a living hell.

But what unions can do with dues money is “member education.” There is a blurry line between political action and member education. In the recent August 16 primary I had five visits from union activists campaigning for union-endorsed candidates, and only two visits from actual candidates — one Democrat, one Republican.

Since I was a union member during my State tenure for only a couple of years in the 1990s, I assume the unions were using the membership lists from the Alaska Retired Public Employees Association, which I was a member of for a year until it became apparent that it cared far more about Democrat politics than about retiree benefits. That was 10 years ago, but I’m still on the list of people that the unions have members out walking the streets to “educate.”

Unions can do almost all of the “ground game” side of politics using dues money, which saves the Democrats a tremendous amount of hard money. The Democrats can use all of their legal, or arguably legal, political money on pure political action and political messaging; the unions will take care of all of the get-out-the-vote, poll-watching, and parallel messaging.

The other thing they do with dues money is fund other union-related or union/Democrat leaning organizations. These groups purport to be interested in improving the lot of “working people.”  The reality is that these are interlocking leftist organizations and if they pass the money around enough, everyone loses track of the pea. If some group is singing songs, carrying signs, or burning buildings in your town, if you scratch far enough you’ll find dues money paying the organizers.

I’m not prepared to accept that all of the unions’ legal money is truly legal, but some portion of their legal money is, in fact, legal and they can spend it as hard money contributions to candidates or initiatives. Hard money is reportable to state and federal campaign finance regulators and is accessible to the public, so it is difficult but not impossible to cheat. Even with all the restrictions on hard money, the major unions, especially the major public employee unions, are perennially in the top 10 contributors to Democrat political campaigns.

Bottom line: If you’re a Republican politician in a union state, and make no mistake, Alaska is a union state, you cannot take on unions unless you are both willing and positioned to take on their revenue stream. They are very well organized and very well funded; the failed AO-37 initiative saw to that. If you’re facing a union financed opponent, you don’t have time to seek any meaningful remedy from the courts and the Executive Branch is your enemy. There is no relief available; you simply have to win the election the hard way.

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska. He is the author of the book, Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance, available at Amazon.