Unions and Democrats: Labor’s Love Lost

Is the lucrative romance between organized labor and the Democratic Party headed for the rocks? Not really, but the Los Angeles Times’ Matea Gold and Melanie Mason try to find some tensions

Concluding they need to be more independent of the Democratic Party, many unions are increasingly financing their own efforts instead of writing large checks to candidates and the party.

The shift in tactics is already apparent in this election season: Labor political action committees gave federal Democratic candidates and committees $21 million last year, a drop of 20% from the same period in the 2008 election, according to data provided by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Several major unions, as well as the AFL-CIO itself, now have their own "super PACs," independent political organizations that can raise unlimited funds.

A broader philosophical debate is also underway as union leaders discuss whether they can afford to invest the estimated $400 million overall that organized labor spent on Obama and congressional Democrats four years ago.

The phrasing "last year…from the same period in the 2008 election" is pretty obscure: Is the idea that unions gave $26,250,000 in 2007 but only $21,000,000 in 2011? 

If so, that drop seems both unspectacular and easily explained: In 2007 there was a Republican in the White House and an open presidential race coming up the following year; unions (public sector unions in particular) were flush with cash during a period of soaring public spending and an inflated stock market; and the then-ascendant McCain-Feingold rules had succeeded in subordinating the right of free speech to the purpose of protecting the power of the major parties. In 2011 there was a Democratic incumbent who had already delivered handsomely for his union cronies; we were four years closer to the inevitable extinction of organized labor; and the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United had partially restored the right of the American people to petition the government for redress of grievances. All these factors would tend to depress giving by unions to Democrats. 

Gold and Mason do entertain one part of the above: the post-Citizens United rise of Super PACs. But as always when the L.A. Times covers labor, there’s 1) a lot of discussion from the bosses and speculation about what the "rank-and-file" will think, but no discussion from the actual rank-and-file; and 2) no attention paid to the paper’s own backyard. 

California pols continue to rake in big union bucks. Unions are typically in first or second place among contributors to Democrats. And not only Democrats: Just the incidental bipartisan hedging that any big political donor must perform means unions are typically among the top-10 contributors to Republicans as well. Spot-checking Maplight’s list of donations for the California Assembly, for example, we find public and/or private-sector unions among the top givers to Republicans Katcho Achadjian (San Luis Obispo), Tim Donnelly (Claremont), Nathan Fletcher (San Diego), Kristin Olsen (Modesto) and even GOP Assembly Leader Connie Conway (Visalia). The figures are even more significant if you count giving by "health professionals," "TV & Movie Production/Distribution," and other heavily unionized industries. 

Golden State Democrats get plenty more from unions, of course, and there’s a lot of variety in how much an Assembly seat costs. Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles), for example, raises more money from unions alone than several of the Republicans raise overall. My own neighborhood’s champion in Sacramento, Democrat Mike Feuer, raises more 20 percent of his war chest from labor and labor-captive industries like entertainment. (Feuer, class all the way, isn’t completely beholden to the unions because his largest donor group by far, amounting to 25 percent of his funds, is "Lawyers and Lobbyists." Give ‘em hell, Mike!) 

That’s a pretty amicable divorce, if it can be called a divorce at all. The idea that labor can quit the Democrats is wishful thinking for other reasons. The 2010s have seen Republican governors like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich trying to dismantle union power and Democratic governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo and California’s Jerry Brown trying to escape from union power. Either way, the politicians are the ones with the momentum, and time is not on organized labor's side. In this climate it’s the unions, not the Democrats, that have nowhere else to go. 

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  • MATT DAMON||

    Hodor!

  • ||

    Intrinsically paternalistic paternal intrinsicists.

  • Ron Paul won US Virgin Islands||

    United States Virgin Islands Republican caucuses, 2012
    Candidate Votes Percentage Unbound Delegates Delegates
    Ron Paul 112[3] 29.2% 1 1
    Mitt Romney 101 26.3% 6 7
    Rick Santorum 23 6.0% 0 0
    Newt Gingrich 18 4.7% 0 0
    Uncommitted 130 33.9% 2 1
    Unprojected delegates:[4] 0 0
    Total: 384 100% 9 9

  • ||

    So the sanest people live in the Virgin Islands? Whoulda thunk it?

  • Kochtopussy||

    Only 112 of them.

  • db||

    Well, since no one else has yet posted on-topic, I don't feel so bad about this:

    In Honor of White Indian

  • The Pointer-Outer||

    This won't end well. All it will take is for massive insurrection to be fanned into flames by the left.

    Kind of like the Occupy movement, which also has the potential to become massively violent, also for no good reason.

  • The Left||

    Oh, there's a good reason, but we're not going to spoil things by telling anyone what it is.

    It's not what you think, though, which would likely be "to make things better". We'd be out of power, politically, if THAT happend.

  • Barack the Jaunty Future King||

    Patience, My minions.

    If I lose the Kingship, THEN you may lay waste to the land. Or when I decide to give My Orders, whichever comes first.

  • CheneyBot||

    I'm still in charge tho, right?

  • Barack the Jaunty Future King||

    You merely advise Me, vile minion.

    But at least you're slightly smarter than Biden. Him, I should make Court Jester.

  • CheneyBot||

    *grunt*

  • Joe Biden||

    Can I come out of this utility room now? The ammonia fumes are starting to make my head hurt.

  • Dan Quayle||

    Uh, that's not a light switch

  • Rev. Al Sharpton||

    Intellectuals like us know what a light switch looks like, Dan.

  • ||

    But, in a unionized workplace, even leftists who know what it looks like aren't allowed to flip it. Work rules, you know.

  • Suki||

    Just skip to "Bush's fault" and move on.

  • omnibot||

    repost
    http://ow.ly/i/viHs
    The jam packed Occupying Media panel at SXSW.

  • Oh, if only...||

    ...a massive fire had broken out, and all the exits were blocked...

  • That's...||

    ...barely a good start.

  • Y'know...||

    ...if I thought I was worth being paid union wages for menial labor, I'd have to first ditch my sense of self-pride - and, perhaps, get a lobotomy.

  • Team Blue||

    Join us. It's simpler, quicker, and Obamacare will cover the lobotomy.

  • Tony||

    Good advice. Sure worked for me.

  • shrike||

    Only a Christ-fag would deny the superiority of social socialism.

  • Ed Schultz||

    That's how my career got started... that, and threatening to torch the fuckin' place because that slut Laura Ingraham is a voice in my head telling me to say stupid shit on cable TV.

    WHO THE FUCK TOOK MY STRING???

  • Rachel Maddow||

    Olbermann rummaged through your stuff before he left MSNBC, Ed.

    I wouldn't put on that pair of brown loafers you keep in the back of your locker, if you get my meaning.

  • Olbermann||

    *snicker*

  • ||

    As I've said before, I don't understand why anyone here's worried about those huge union bucks. After all it's an article of faith here that money doesn't influence politics in the least.

  • Sevo||

    Hate Potion Number Nine|3.11.12 @ 11:20PM|#
    "As I've said before, I don't understand why anyone here's worried about those huge union bucks. After all it's an article of faith here that money doesn't influence politics in the least."

    Yes, you have. But those huge union buck sure influence the budgets and the taxes.
    Did you have a point other than proving you're an ignoramus?

  • ||

    Such swiftian wit! I'll endure a lifetime reeling from the pain inflicted from such an elegant, mature and refined riposte. I am humbled in your presence and want to bear your children!

  • ||

    it's not an article of faith that money doesn't influence politics. of course it does.

    however, that's tangential to the fact that citizen's united righted a wrong and furthered the cause of free speech

    fwiw, as a union member, i don't think for a second that unions are always on the side of THE GOOD (tm)

    they are an advocacy group. they fight for their members. sometimes they are right, and sometimes they are wrong

  • Ron Paul won US Virgin Islands||

    United States Virgin Islands Republican caucuses, 2012
    Candidate Votes Percentage Unbound Delegates Delegates
    Ron Paul 112[3] 29.2% 1 1
    Mitt Romney 101 26.3% 6 7
    Rick Santorum 23 6.0% 0 0
    Newt Gingrich 18 4.7% 0 0
    Uncommitted 130 33.9% 2 1
    Unprojected delegates:[4] 0 0
    Total: 384 100% 9 9

  • Killazontherun||

    The shift in tactics is already apparent in this election season: Labor political action committees gave federal Democratic candidates and committees $21 million last year, a drop of 20% from the same period in the 2008 election

    That unions have money to burn like that is proof the corporations are paying their workers too goddamn much.

  • Boardroom Cam||

    Exec 1: Labor costs are up sir, our profits are going to be 2% lower than last year
    CEO: What's that in real dollars son?
    Exec 2: We will make $3 million less than last year.
    CEO: FIX It
    Exec 3: Yes sir, we have an idea. If we cut out dental benefits, we can make $4 million more than last year.
    CEO: Make it so.

  • Onkel Karl||

    and that is why we have unions.

  • The Pointer-Outer||

    Because, as we've been told... people deserve free stuff.

  • Onkel Karl||

    Compensation for Labor != Free stuff

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Folks, we have an Occutard in our midst.

  • Sevo||

    Onkel Karl|3.11.12 @ 11:39PM|#
    "Compensation for Labor != Free stuff"

    Market-clearing price, bozo.

  • gee math||

    if the compensation is greater than the market value of that labor it is indeed free stuff.

  • Onkel Karl||

    No, the market value is the break-even point. if you extract more than that you are making then you are exploiting. If you pay at a point where you are incurring a loss, then and only then are you over-compensating.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Who gets to decide which extreme is happening, OK? You? Some self-appointed "expert" other than you?

  • Onkel Karl||

    if you cut back your employee benefits to increase your profit, you are under-valuing your employees.

  • Killazontherun||

    Hey Karl, I got your number, unclefucker.

    http://reason.com/blog/2012/03.....nt_2904613

  • Mr. FIFY||

    I repeat the question, Onkel Fellow-traveler.

  • Onkel Karl||

    Profit is the answer. If profit goes up and benefits go down, you are clearly under-compensating your employees.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Like I said downthread... here comes the Occutard bullshit. Just a matter of time.

  • Sevo||

    Onkel Karl|3.11.12 @ 11:54PM|#
    "Profit is the answer. If profit goes up and benefits go down, you are clearly under-compensating your employees."

    No, stupid shit, you're rewarding the owners and the customers.

  • Onkel Karl is not OK||

    If profit goes up and benefits go down, you are clearly under-compensating your employees.

    If an employee doesn't find another job when his pay is cut, than the employee either undervalues himself or he was being overpaid in the first place. And yes, "benefits" are part of an employee's pay. "benefits" are just pay the spending decisions for which have taken out of the hands of the employee.

  • Sevo||

    Onkel Karl|3.11.12 @ 11:49PM|#
    "No, the market value is the break-even point."

    No, you're a stupid shit.

  • ||

    the unions ARE a part of "the market"

    can they damage "the market" sometimes? sure. heck, they can ruin a company. of course so can a lot of other stuff that is part of the market, like concentrating on short term profits while letting infrastructure crumble or not spending enough on R&D or a million other reasons.

    unions certainly, ceteris paribus, make labor more costly which cuts into profits, though

  • ||

    Compensation for Labor = Free stuff when the compensation is set, not by the market, but by a cartel protected and enforced by the government.

  • ||

    the unions ARE a part of "the market"

    Of course, this is trivially true. Everything is part of the market. Many things, however, are part of the market because they distort it, are imposed by government fiat, etc.

  • American Medical Association||

    Compensation for Labor = Free stuff when the compensation is set, not by the market, but by a cartel protected and enforced by the government.

    HEY!

  • American Bar Association||

    Compensation for Labor = Free stuff when the compensation is set, not by the market, but by a cartel protected and enforced by the government.

    HEY!

  • Killazontherun||

    Cause you are not smart enough or tough enough to make it without a bully throwing you scraps, Karl?

  • Union Mind-Molders||

    We have our claws in him, Killaz. He's lost to you now.

  • Killazontherun||

    Damn. Why must it always end like an episode of The Invaders?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    The old version, or that remake a few years ago?

  • Killazontherun||

    I grew up on reruns of the old version. Did not even know about the remake.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112018/

    1995. Time gets away from me.

  • Killazontherun||

    Scott Bakula? I think I would have heard of that. In my defense, 1995 was a helluva year for cocaine. Seinfeld was all I made time for, oh, and X-Files.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    It wasn't bad, but I preferred the original.

  • Teamster Enforcer||

    I hoid dere's sumone talkin' smak abot unions. Don' make me bust yer fuckin' heads.

  • Killazontherun||

    Head like a hole. Black as your soul. I'd rather die than give a union thug control.

  • R||

    Just introduce them to the muzzle of your shotgun.

  • ||

    Im still on the fence re. Citizens United. Unlimited spending sounds to me like the guy with the most money wins elections. I like to say that I am not influenced by campaign ads, but how much water does that argument hold?

  • Onkel Karl||

    The sheeple believe what the idiot box feeds them.

  • Sevo||

    Onkel Karl|3.11.12 @ 11:41PM|#
    "The sheeple believe what the idiot box feeds them."

    When a stupid shit doesn't have an argument, the stupid shit projects.

  • ||

    i love throwing the fact in progressives' faces that ACLU and many very prominent liberal free speech advocates supported citizens united.

    of course progressives don't support freedom of speech, so that's not surprising

    fwiw, citizens united was ultimately about govt. censorship of a documentary, a fact that opponents ALWAYS gloss over.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Jon, always remember what set off the CU battle:

    A group of people made a movie critical of Hillary Clinton.

    That is, as they say, that.

  • MSNBC||

    Your check is in the mail, Onkel.

  • George Soros||

    And YOUR check is in the mail, my loyal cable-TV troops.

  • ||

    AND that movie was censorable based on campaign finance laws. how twisted is THAT?

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    "Unlimited spending sounds to me like the guy with the most money wins elections."

    Except when the guy is Michael Huffington, Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, Al Checci, Ross Perot, Steve Forbes...

  • Onkel Karl is not OK||

    ... and soon, Barack Obama.

  • Onkel Karl||

    1 in 4 americans believe Aliens landed at Roswell and are keeping their craft & bodies at Area 51.

  • The Pointer-Outer||

    Why is that not a plausible theory?

  • Killazontherun||

    And you believe in the labor theory of value which makes you a bigger dumbass.

  • Sevo||

    And it's a good be OK is blogging about it.

  • Onkel Karl||

    If you had to choose:
    a) lower profits by 1% (still making a profit, but only less)
    b) cut employee benefits to make 1% more profit

    what do you choose?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Wait for it, folks... OK is about to explode any moment now. The "profits are evul" bullshit will flow like runny sewage.

  • The Pointer-Outer||

    Very accurate way to describe it, FIFY.

  • Onkel Karl||

    I am not saying profits are evil.
    I'm making the distinction between 2 variables - increase of profit at the expense of decreased compensation?

  • Killazontherun||

    If the workers are still there, or have not easily been replace then they were being over paid in the original scenario.

    D'uhhhhh.

  • Sevo||

    Onkel Karl|3.12.12 @ 12:01AM|#
    "I am not saying profits are evil.
    I'm making the distinction between 2 variables - increase of profit at the expense of decreased compensation?"

    No, stupid shit, you're trying to claim workers are worth more than the market pays for them.

  • ||

    look, there are all sorts of negatives vis a vis unions, but they ARE part of the market.

  • Onkel Karl is not OK||

    unions, but they ARE part of the market

    No, unions are a distortion of the market, by design, well, at least where ever union membership is compulsory or where unions are public or collect from non-members or where they use violence, intimidation or property destruction as tactics.

  • Whahappan?||

    So, practically speaking, everywhere.

  • Sevo||

    Onkel Karl|3.11.12 @ 11:53PM|#
    "If you had to choose:
    a) lower profits by 1% (still making a profit, but only less)
    b) cut employee benefits to make 1% more profit
    what do you choose?"

    a), stupid shit.

  • Onkel Karl||

    You have chosen a).

    Half of your employees quit, and you are now out of business.

    Good job, Tante Sevo.

  • Sevo||

    Onkel Karl|3.12.12 @ 12:09AM|#
    "You have chosen a).
    Half of your employees quit, and you are now out of business.
    Good job, Tante Sevo."

    Good job projecting hypotheticals, stupid shit.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Any moment now... OK will go apeshit. Just a matter of time.

  • Cytotoxic||

    It's amazing he's been so restrained so far.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    He'll be Max-level rabid soon.

  • Onkel Karl is not OK||

    You have chosen a).

    Half of your employees quit, and you are now out of business.

    That's called a market correction and does not increase profits.

  • ||

    If half my emplyees quit over losing dental benefits, it sure sounds like its easy for them to get equivalent jobs elsewhere.

    So, they're no worse off, really.

    What's the problem?

  • ||

    Depends. Will I get to keep the 1% profit, or am I one of the workers?

  • I'm Union and I own stock||

    Both!

  • Ron Paul won US Virgin Islands||

    United States Virgin Islands Republican caucuses, 2012
    Candidate Votes Percentage Unbound Delegates Delegates
    Ron Paul 112[3] 29.2% 1 1
    Mitt Romney 101 26.3% 6 7
    Rick Santorum 23 6.0% 0 0
    Newt Gingrich 18 4.7% 0 0
    Uncommitted 130 33.9% 2 1
    Unprojected delegates:[4] 0 0
    Total: 384 100% 9 9

  • Boardroom Cam||

    Exec 1: I have an idea. If we cut employee pay in half, we can make twice as much money.
    CEO: Go on.
    Exec 2: But if we cut pay in half, the workers will leave.
    Exec 3: That's fine. There are others who will work.
    Exec 1: We're the only factory in the town.
    CEO: Make it so.

  • Sevo||

    Good job imagining hypotheticals, stupid shit

  • Onkel Karl||

    It's not a hypothetical, stupid shit

  • Mr. FIFY||

    And so it begins.

  • Cytotoxic||

    No, it's the result of a massive economic downturn that is the fault of stupid shits like you.

  • Ryan||

    homeskewl

  • Ryan||

    down there v

  • ||

    If you cut the pay in half, and you can still fully staff your factory, then it sounds like working at your factory is still better than the alternatives.

    Those people who take the jobs are still better off than they would have been without the job.

    What's the problem?

  • Killazontherun||

    The violins in the back ground are not playing a melancholy B-flat minor melody in your version of events.

  • Cytotoxic||

    I just watched the teachers rally video for the first time. Sweet Jesus. These people have our nations children in their clutches. WE. ARE. FUCKED. HERE.

  • Boardroom Cam||

    CEO: Didn't you say that Garland's kid needs a new lung?
    Exec 1: I've arranged the local news team to come over while you hand over the thirty thousand dollar check.
    CEO: Not so fast. Garland's wife is fairly attractive. I should at least be compensated with sex.
    Exec 1: We'll make it so.
    CEO: Wait. Not so fast. Garland's kid is kind of cute . . .
    Exec 1: Sir! She is only eleven.
    CEO: I don't like the smell of weakness and I smell weakness.
    Exec 2: Shall I kill him sir?
    CEO: Of course.
    [A struggle commences, gasps, screams]
    Exec 2: I'll dispose of the body. Anything else, sir?
    CEO: Garland's dog is a fairly handsome breed.

  • Onkel Karl||

    You want to know what too much is? Nobody needs more than $1 million/year.
    If you can't live on $1 million/year, you don't deserve it anyway.

  • Onkel Karl||

    spoof

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Who can tell the difference?

  • Lurker ||

    damn you

  • Cytotoxic||

    Difference?

  • Lurker ||

    nobody who has read this far would have been able to tell the difference.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Hmm...

    "Good job, Tante Sevo."

    Wiktionary sez:

    Etymology

    From French tante, from Old French ante, from Latin amita (“paternal aunt”).

    Congrats, Sevo... you're apparently related to our newest liberaltroll.

  • ||

    Hey WI, any news on the Virgin Islands?

  • Ron Paul won US Virgin Islands||

    United States Virgin Islands Republican caucuses, 2012
    Candidate Votes Percentage Unbound Delegates Delegates
    Ron Paul 112[3] 29.2% 1 1
    Mitt Romney 101 26.3% 6 7
    Rick Santorum 23 6.0% 0 0
    Newt Gingrich 18 4.7% 0 0
    Uncommitted 130 33.9% 2 1
    Unprojected delegates:[4] 0 0
    Total: 384 100% 9 9

  • Onkel Karl is not OK||

    Republicans had better hope that unions stay closely allied to the Democrats. Most people have a negative view of unions, a perception only reinforced by the events in WI, and the Republicans need something to distract voters from Republican misdeeds.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Why don't the unions take some of that money and create businesses with it? They can run the business as they see fit, they can negotiate or not with unions as they see fit, and if their worldview is correct, they'll flourish much more as owners than as workers.

  • Unions||

    We've done the math. It's cheaper to buy votes than do something useful.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Why don't the unions take some of that money and create businesses with it give it back to their members?

    If unions were so worried about how much compensation their members are getting, having any money at all outside of absolutely necessary expenses would be seen as a bad thing considering every single bit of it is taken, oftentimes forcibly, from their members.

    When unions don't have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on buying government favors, you can complain about the companies they work for not compensating them enough. Until then, shut the fuck up.

  • American Bar Association||

    Why don't the unions take some of that money and create businesses with it? They can run the business as they see fit, they can negotiate or not with unionsgovernment as they see fit, and if their worldview is correct, they'll flourish much more as owners than as workers.

    Crap! He's on to us!

  • Phil_EngageAmerica||

    Well unions kind of have to support the Democratic Party otherwise who else would promise to return the favor in the collective bargaining process (http://bit.ly/o2vxdp)? This is definitely a pivotal time for the future of public sector compensation. Finally we’re seeing a push back on the lucrative benefits that unions receive that enable them to continue to experience growth in a recession while the rest of the country stuffers (). How many more Rhode Island (http://nyti.ms/wn7HlE) like instances will it take for things to finally change for good? It seems like one way or another, things will come to head. You just hope we don’t have to suffer more inundated states to get to that point.

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