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U.S. Politics

America’s Shadowbosses Exposed

Unions, be it for postal workers or car manufacturers, exert significant political clout in America. The public sector unions, in particular, have seen significant growth in recent decades. “For the past half century government employee unions have been winning,” argued Mallory Factor at a recent Heritage event. “The unions’ power and privilege has been ratcheted up, never down, and it has been ratcheted up toward greater union power neverless.”

It’s our job to reverse that pattern and restore sanity and fiscal policy to our country.”

“What I discovered [when writing my book] is that shadow bosses are setting the agenda,” he said. Citadel Professor Factor is the author of Shadowbosses: Government Unions Control America and Rob Taxpayers Blind. A shadow boss is a power-that-be that controls policies or outcomes from behind the scenes, he said, and unions pull the strings of politicians, city councils, and school boards, and try to make sure that only favorable leaders stay in office. “ It’s really about our government spending too much on government employees: hiring too many and paying them too much,” he argued.

“It is shocking to me, but not to people like James Sherk over here, that over 20 million people work for government and 41% of those people are represented by a union,” he said. “Government workers are five times as unionized as private employees.” For every additional million union workers the unions get approximately $1 billion annually, according to Factor.

Sherk, a policy analyst at Heritage, described the ruinous effects that unions can and have had on schools. “In contract negotiations, unions always insist on seniority-based layoffs,” said Sherk. “This gives guaranteed job security to their more senior members that have more clout within the union, but it also means that school districts are forced to lay off the new hires first, even if those teachers are star performers.”

This actually happened in Nevada and New Jersey, said Factor, where teachers of the year were laid off. Sherk called the process undemocratic because it stifles policy reform in schools. Say a school board were elected to enact reforms, “That school board does not have the power in our democracy to enact that platform,” asserted Sherk. “They have to sit down with the unions, and the unions say ‘No,’ and that’s that.”

Leaders who try to enact reforms against public sector unions often make national news. Take, for example, Governor Chris Christie’s move to balance the New Jersey budget. As I noted in April 2010, Governor Christie’s budget would cut funding for public education by $820 million. Christie also pushed for school districts in his state to freeze employee wages in exchange for increased state aid.  The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) strongly opposed Governor Christie’s proposed cuts. The Bergen County Education Association, affiliated with NJEA, sent around a memo jokingly praying for Governor Christie’s death. “My argument is not with teachers in New Jersey, my argument is with the union…” Governor Christie had argued at the 2010 Town Hall featured in the video.

“The unions today collect over 14 billion dollars in dues,” said Factor at the Heritage event. “Just the teachers’ unions alone, as we talk about in Shadowbosses, collect 2 billion dollars a year just in dues,” he said, adding that about 20% of those monies were officially spent on political activity; approximately the same percentage was spent on union members. 60% went for administrative costs, he said.

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