Once upon a time, unions provided an opportunity for frontline workers to amplify their influence by banding together for better working conditions, higher pay, and other benefits. Today, times have changed. In 1970 about one worker in three were members of a union; now, unions represent only one out of ten.
Why has membership dropped so precipitously? It’s simple: workers have become unconvinced of the benefits, because unions have exposed how little they do to represent dues-paying members. Instead, they have evolved into gargantuan political fundraising machines, taking members’ money and funneling it towards Democratic candidates. They don’t bother to make their donations reflective of their members’ politics. CNN exit polls in 2004 found 38% of union members voted for George W. Bush, but unions gave a whopping 95% of political donations to his Democratic opponent, John Kerry.
Democrats have returned the favor. Earlier this week, self-declared “union man” President Joe Biden established a task force on “worker organizing.” Led by Vice President Harris, it’s an unguarded attempt to dramatically increase the number of union members, despite workers leaving their ranks in droves.
It seems “union man” Biden must keep his thumb on the scales, because without Democrats’ devotion, these massive bureaucracies would be on life support. Recent attempts to organize have been roundly unsuccessful, as in the highly publicized defeat of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s push to recruit an Alabama Amazon warehouse, where over 70% of workers voted against it.
So instead of winning over workers on the merits, unions are turning to what they do best: using Democratic campaign donations as carrot and stick.
On a call last week with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, union leaders reportedly made it clear: vote how they want, or don’t expect campaign contributions. They vowed to make donations to Democratic Senators contingent on whether they co-sponsored their priority legislation, the “Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act” (House Resolution 842). There are three Democratic holdouts whom unions are targeting: our own Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly are two of them. Union leaders made their message loud and clear: “No money, no support of PRO.”
Our senators are right to stand against the pressure and stay off this unapologetically partisan union wish-list, which intends to stack the deck for unions at the expense not only of employers, but also millions of American workers. For one thing, it would destroy the right-to-work laws that Arizona state legislators, myself included, have fought to establish in our state. Arizonans deserve a choice on whether a portion of their hard-earned money goes to unions, especially considering the lack of transparency on where that money ends up.
Further, the PRO Act would force employees to hand over their phone numbers and home addresses to union organizers. “Card check” eliminates workers’ right to a secret ballot during votes on union participation. If organizers know every worker’s personal contact information and how they voted on membership, how does Congress expect union bosses to treat defectors?
While the competition is stiff for the most damaging part of the legislation, codifying the ABC Test nationwide might take the cake. A national ABC Test would inflict unprecedented damage on the 21st-century workforce, making it nearly impossible to maintain a high income and flexible lifestyle through freelancing and the gig economy. When California instituted an ABC Test, thousands of writers, photographers, entrepreneurs, and journalists had to either cut their production (thus slashing their income) or jockey for a part- or full-time role at the companies they contracted with (thus eliminating their flexibility, and likely much of their income, too). Through the ABC Test, the PRO Act’s impact on America’s workforce would be devastating – particularly for women and people of color.
Unions’ open refusal to give a dime to any Democratic senator who does not co-sponsor the PRO Act reeks of near-blackmail, a pressure scheme I term “play-for-pay.” By openly using their fundraising prowess as carrot and stick for Democrats, unions have abandoned all pretense of “representing workers’ rights” and embraced their role as partisan financers – for their select political friends. Senators Sinema and Kelly are right not to fall in line with this atrocious pressure tactic.
Representative Becky Nutt has served in the Arizona House of Representatives since 2017. She chairs the Rules Committee and is also a member of the Commerce Committee.