The Democratic Party-Public Union Symbiosis

by James A. Bacon

It’s Labor Day today, so I suppose it’s appropriate that Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has disseminated a fund-raising email calling for recipients to join him in “fighting for working people.” By that, he means giving a “voice” and a “seat at the able” to Virginia teachers, firefighters, and other public-sector workers.

“Virginia public-sector workers will soon have the freedom to form a union and bargain collectively for things such as fair pay, adequate staffing, and safe working conditions,” says Stoney. “Please join me in standing in solidarity with our workers here in the City of Richmond.” While you’re expressing your solidarity, donate here.

Put another way, a vote for Stoney is a vote for the Big Labor/Democratic Party political symbiosis that is strangling the fiscal life out of blue states across the country. Let us refresh ourselves on a few basic facts.

So far in the 2020-21 season, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, Organized Labor has donated to $756,733 to Virginia political campaigns. That’s less than the sums contributed by other economic interest groups such as real estate, law, and health care. But Organized Labor is just getting started. Most of the money this year comes from out-of-state unions. As unions increase their representation of teachers, fire fighters, policemen and other public employees, collecting dues, and regurgitating money back into the political system, campaign donations to Dems will soar.

It goes without saying that public-employee unions give almost exclusively to Democrats. Here is VPAP’s 2020-21 data:

Firefighters International Association
Democrats — $26,000
Republicans — 0

National Air Traffic Controllers
Democrats — $35,000
Republicans — 0

American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees
Democrats — $30,000
Republicans — 0

The construction unions are pouring even more money into state elections to support Democrats who will work to rig bidding rules on public construction projects to favor companies with unionized workforces.

Why are public labor unions such fervent supporters of Democrats? Because Democratic-dominated states enact laws that make it easier for public employee unions to organize and that give them more power, such as the right to strike, to negotiate.

Nationally, public unions contribute to Democratic candidates, and Democrats, when elected, repay them from the public purse. The money comes from one of two sources: either higher taxes or from other programs and priorities.

How much will it cost Virginia to shift to public employee unions? There is no way to know for certain, of course, and there are many variables at work. But we can take a stab at an answer.

In this chart I correlated the percentage of unionized employees in the state/local government workforce as provided in a 2018 study by the Economic Policy Institute and the average payout per retiree listed by 24.7 Wall St. based on 2017 Pew Charitable Trust data. (The red dot shows Virginia, where 17.3% of the public workforce is classified as being unionized. I presume this mainly reflects membership in the Virginia Education Association, although I do not know that for certain.)

There is a meaningful correlation between percentage of public-sector unionization and the average retirement pay of public employees. In other words, the greater the public union share of the public workforce, the more bargaining power unions have, and the higher the wages and benefits they extract.

Let’s say that Democratic Party control of Virginia’s legislature, statewide elected offices, and local government offices creates a dynamic in which Virginia’s public employees manage to increase public union membership and the average payout per retired employee from $22,461, as seen in the chart, by about $5,000, to a level commensurate with other Democratic-dominated states with regimes friendly to public sector unions.

According to 2014 data cited by Governing magazine, Virginia had 189,000 state and local FTE government employees. Added retirement benefits alone would jack up the cost structure of state and local government by almost $1 billion over time. That doesn’t include increases in payroll for active workers.

When Stoney stands in solidarity with Richmond’s public employees, he also stands in solidarity with bigger campaign donations to Democrats. Perhaps someone should ask him where he thinks the money for “fair pay, adequate staffing, and safe working conditions” will come from — Richmond’s taxpayers or priorities such as schools, road repairs, public safety, or other government services.

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16 responses to “The Democratic Party-Public Union Symbiosis

  1. In politics the saying is you dance with who brung you…..

    Virginia’s future: https://www.empirecenter.org/publications/cops-dominate-latest-list-of-six-figure-pensions/

    • Keep in mind in NYC you can double dip—you have a local pension on top of your state pension. Similar to what teachers get in Fairfax County here—they get FCRS on top of VRS. Or Arlington County employees that get ACERS.

  2. It has been many years since I have had a statistics course, but I am not impressed with the purported correlation shown. An R square of .28 means that only about a quarter of the variability in retirement benefits is explained by union membership. And, as Jim indicates, the definition of union membership can vary from state to state, which makes any correlation any more subject to question.

    Jim says that the correlation is “meaningful.” That is not a statistical term. The term that statisticians uses is “significant”. And there is a test to determine if the correlation in the data is significant. I will live it up to persons more versed in statistics than I am to run that test.

  3. The Post Office is unionized. So is UPS. So are the airlines and a slew of other workers and the sky has not fallen yet… despite hysterical predictions of boogeyman running amok.

    I guess it’s part and parcel of being a “conservative” but actually for someone who claims to be Libertarian – a little odd to say the least.

    maybe Conservatarian?

    At least Steve is a true unabashed “conservative” – though also likely considered a CINO by the Va GOP.

    • That’s cINO. I figure he’s gonna wake up (not woke) some fine morning, turn to the right, and walk for a week to find another real conservative; the Conservatives having morphed into something more closely representing a morlock, dark orange skin, raccoon eyes, and wispy can’t be real hair.

  4. Until collective bargaining rights for public employees goes into effect, we are one of just five states where collective bargaining by public employees is banned—the others being NC, SC, GA, and TX. There are a great number of conservative right to work states that for example have powerful teachers unions—Alabama comes to mind. Virginia was a real outlier here. Also I can say firsthand that what teachers get paid in NC is a sick joke, to the point that many teachers who graduate from NC universities don’t even bother applying for an in state teaching job. We are not exactly great in what we pay—real wages for teachers have declined since the 90s and especially since’08 thanks to salary compression from all the pay scale freezes—but this’ll help us from falling to that level. Am not aware of the situation in the other three, however.

  5. As has become very clear, the unions have worked out very well for police across all aspects of their employment including internal investigations and discipline.

  6. Perhaps you need to give “unions” a break…I don’t know how many statistics have to be thrown at you, but over the weekend a study came out showing that 50% of American equities are owned by 1% of the population while the bottom 50% of Americans own 0.7% of American equities.

    In the end, the private sector economy in America underwent a fundamental change in 2001 after 9/11. Its gains have increasingly gone to the top 5-10% of the population with everyone else getting leftovers. This isn’t some sort of “socialist screed”, it’s just reality. What is ridiculous is the idea that wealth should accumulate at the top b/c those at the top have “earned” it. Are you kidding me? I’ve known quite a few F500 CEOs and CFOs. Hard working? Sure. But there is nothing in terms of value or labor that they are adding that makes them worth 100x more than their lowest paid worker. Nothing. Conservatives have set up a ridiculous paradigm that glorifies people with some accounting/managerial skills as “heroes” while a clerk who works 40 hours a week at WalMart and needs Medicaid is a “taker” or “parasite.”

  7. Creguy…. “But there is nothing in terms of value or labor that they are adding that makes them worth 100x more than their lowest paid worker.”
    Well that’s just an opinion….
    How about this….
    How much value does a sports guy add to anything,,,, How much value does a movie star add to anything… How much value does Kim Kartrashian add to anything,,, How much value does a guy reading the evening news add to anything…. Yet they get paid amazing amounts of money $$$$$

    • Can only say that I’ve literally been friends with a F50 CFO who earned 7 figures in salary and had an enormous total compensation package. He was literally embarrassed at the $ he was making. Additionally, I was friends with a General Counsel at an enormously successful publicly traded tech company. Same reaction to their salary: way too high, but “it’s what the market dictates.” This isn’t uncommon in the C-suite in corporate America. If you know them on a personal level, many will say that they earn way too much compared to the average worker in their enterprise.

  8. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Teachers need to get ready to have their hand smacked. No raises from many local school boards for a while. Starting tomorrow people are going to continue to get steamed up about virtual education and the school teachers are going to catch the blame. Might not be fair but my bet is the school teacher better get used to frozen salaries for a while.

    • Get used to it? Teacher salaries in real dollars, at least in metro Richmond, have been virtually frozen since 2008. Step increases these days are entirely theoretical—making the published pay scales little more than fantasy—and salary compression has reached absurd levels.

  9. “In other words, the greater the public union share of the public workforce, the more bargaining power unions have, and the higher the wages and benefits they extract.”

    The horror….

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