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January 25, 2010

1) Government Union Members Outnumber Private Sector Members. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual report on union membership last week and, to no one's surprise, union membership and market share fell once again.

There were 770,000 fewer union members in 2009 than there were in 2008. Union members comprised 12.31% of the national workforce, down from 12.44%. But aggregating the numbers masks the important part of the story. Last year, for the first time in American history, there were more union members who worked for the government than there were in the private sector, though the private sector workforce is more than five times larger. We now have 7.9 million public sector union members, and only 7.4 million private sector union members.

Only 7.19% of the private workforce belongs to unions, down from 7.65% in 2008. As I have mentioned in the past, this number actually overstates union market share, since all self-employed individuals are excluded from BLS statistics. Unions lost 834,000 members in the private sector last year, but managed to add 64,000 members with government jobs.

By far the most unionized segment of the U.S. workforce is in local government, which includes police, firefighters and, of course, teachers. In 2009, almost 4.9 million union members worked for local government, a 43.3% rate.

What the Heritage Foundation is calling "the new face of organized labor" has enormous implications for American politics and for the dynamics of the labor movement itself. With the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in hand, unions will no longer have to disguise their direct political advocacy as "member communications" and hide endorsements behind member-only firewalls. The National Education Association is already the largest political spender in America. The new rules will allow the unions to multiply their message with little additional outlay.

Increasingly the primary message will call for the expansion of government, but that message does contain hidden hazards for the labor movement. For decades the image of unions has been that of the trucker, miner, longshoreman and assembly-line worker. To that extent that those occupations are still unionized, those folks no longer call the shots for Big Labor.

For positive public relations, it is a simple task to substitute teachers, police and firefighters for the disappearing industrial workers, but teachers - especially NEA teachers - have resisted identification with the broader labor movement in the past. This makes NEA President Dennis Van Roekel's emphasis on this area particularly telling. And where does that leave the private-sector industrial workers, the former heart of organized labor?

The Wall Street Journal's Melanie Trottman reported last Friday on an AFL-CIO poll in Massachusetts that showed union households voted 49%-46% for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley.

The AFL-CIO predictably tried to spin this as generalized anger about Congress' failure to enact the labor agenda, and the union household factoid somehow failed to merit inclusion in the pollster's memo to interested parties. Ah, but wouldn't it be instructive to know what the private sector member/public sector member vote split was? Is it possible that private sector union members went largely for Brown and the public sector went for Coakley?

As we toy with the idea of turning private sector jobs into public sector jobs, will we reach the point of having a virtually union-free private sector supporting a highly unionized public sector?

2) Oregon Fails to Identify Largest "Out-of-State Contributor" to Tomorrow's Election. Tomorrow, Oregonians go to the polls to determine the fates of Measures 66 and 67; the first would increase the top income tax rate, the other would increase the corporate minimum tax.

Media outlets have regularly identified the state's public employee unions as being the primary movers behind the Yes campaign. "The 48,000-member Oregon Education Association, the state's main teachers union, is the biggest single donor on either side, contributing more than $2 million to support Measures 66 and 67," reported Brent Walth of The Oregonian.

Those membership numbers may be a bit inflated, but even if we accept them as entirely accurate, that still comes to about $42 from each and every member of OEA - even retirees and students. Since OEA's ballot measure fund assessment is only $20 per member, who is making up the difference?

The Oregon Secretary of State's campaign finance database identifies every contributor to the Vote Yes for Oregon committee, including OEA's $2 million in cash. It also flags out-of-state contributors such as AFSCME and SEIU.

Last month, the NEA board of directors approved a $550,000 contribution from the national union's Ballot Measure/Legislative Crisis Fund to OEA specifically to support Measures 66 and 67. But because the cash passed through OEA first, it was treated as an in-state contribution.

In NEA's 2008-09 fiscal year, which ended August 31, the national union sent an additional $1 million to OEA. It is unclear whether this money was targeted for the November 2008 elections or for other purposes. NEA did send $3 million directly to Defend Oregon last year.

3) Iowa State Education Association Local Disaffiliates. The Professional Educators of Twin Cedars voted to disaffiliate from the Iowa State Education Association, becoming the second independent bargaining unit in the state.

Local officers identified the state union's push for an agency fee law as being a major part of their decision. "There is one sure way to keep the union from collecting any 'fair share' fees and that is to make sure they don't run things," said PETC President Justin Nolte.

4) Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from January 19-25:

*  What Scott Brown's Election Will Mean for America. Analysis you won't see anywhere else.

Around the Horn. Did NEA inadvertently help get Brown elected?

Shovel-Ready Teachers? An expansive definition of school construction.

Homeowner Avoids the S-Trap. Teach for America parallels?

"Lost" Recapped by Extended Italian Family. Those wacky Antonuccis.

5) Quote of the Week. "On Page 1A we report on the tentative teachers' pact reached between the Racine Unified School Board and the Racine Education Association thanks to the efforts of our reporting staff in getting a copy of the 'secret' document that had only been released to teachers.... We have objected to the secrecy of this process before and maintained that the public has just as much right to view and digest these pacts and to be able to contact school board members with their views - whether they be in support or opposition to the package.... What is bothersome about this secrecy and the delay in revealing the details is that it presumes a propriety attitude by both the board and the REA - that this is the teachers' contract and they and the board members should be able to peruse it first.... So, too, this contract belongs not just to the teachers, but to the people who pay for it as well. They have a right to know what's in it in a more timely fashion." - the editorial board of The Journal Times of Racine, Wisconsin. (January 22 The Journal Times)


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