The Two Political Faces of Big Labor

This op-ed column was originally published at

Rick Berman, CUF Executive Director

For a Republican, President Trump is popular among members of labor unions. Last year he carried 43% of the union-household vote, compared with Hillary Clinton’s 51%. Four years earlier Barack Obama had outpolled Mitt Romney by 18 points among this group. In Ohio Mr. Trump won the union-household vote by eight points.

Union officials have repeatedly met with Mr. Trump to discuss trade, infrastructure and other employment issues. In March AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka promised to work with the White House to “decrease the imbalance between corporate America and workers.”

Meanwhile, a website called offers “a hub for progressive local #resist actions” and declares: “It’s never been more important to raise our voices to resist Trump’s harmful agenda.” Scroll down and you’ll find that the website is a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Who funds CAP? Labor unions. In fiscal 2016, according to Labor Department records, the left-wing organization received more than $814,000 from the AFL-CIO, National Education Association, and Service Employees International Union, among others.

My organization, the Center for Union Facts, estimates that over the past decade Big Labor has used more than $1 billion from member dues to fund the Democratic Party and liberal special-interest groups. Examples:

  • Americans United for Change, an advocacy group led by former Democratic operative Brad Woodhouse, collected $830,000 from union dues last year. AUC’s national field director (who was subsequently let go) was caught on hidden camera suggesting mentally ill people had been paid to instigate violence at Trump campaign events.
  • David Brock’s American Bridge 21st Century received $485,000 in dues money to “hold Republicans accountable.” This includes criticizing President Trump’s proposed budget while releasing an “interactive timeline highlighting Donald Trump’s long and troubling ties to Russia.”
  • The American Prospect, a left-wing magazine, churns out headlines such as “How Trump Energizes Other Dictators” and claims “there is a psychopath in the White House.” In 2016 it received nearly $173,000 from union dues.

Union leadership is cleverly leveraging anti-Trump front groups so that union officials can still visit the West Wing. Union members, meanwhile, have little say over how their dues are spent. While union members must affirmatively consent to PAC donations, the same is not true for political advocacy spending.

To rectify the situation, Congress should pass the Employee Rights Act, which drew 170 House and Senate co-sponsors in 2016 and is likely to gain more supporters this year. The ERA would prevent union officials from spending member dues on political advocacy without prior approval.

Until such a reform is enacted, Trump voters will have to put up with union bosses who say one thing and do another.