Big Labor Keeps Getting Richer Even as Its Membership Declines
A new analysis by veteran union strategist and numbers maven Chris Bohner shatters the myth that declining membership ranks have translated into less money and political clout for top officials of American labor unions.
Mr. Bohner’s study, “Labor’s Fortress of Finance,” was prepared for Radish Research, the consulting group he founded and heads. It can be obtained free of charge through Internet search engines simply by referencing its title.
“Labor’s Fortress of Finance” reviews data appearing in thousands of financial reports filed with the U.S. Labor Department (DOL) and other federal agencies over the past decade.
From 2010-20, Net Union Assets Nearly Doubled, Reaching $29.1 Billion
And the study shows that, even as the share of U.S. employees who are union members dropped from 11.9% in 2010 to 10.3% in 2020, net union assets nearly doubled, reaching a total of $29.1 billion in 2020, the last year for which comprehensive Big Labor financial data are available.
National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix commented:
“Establishment media coverage of Organized Labor focuses relentlessly on the ongoing decline in union membership, and on union activists’ schemes to reverse this decline.
“But powerful electronic, broadcast, and print journalists pay little if any attention to the enormous financial resources wielded by union officials, which are derived largely from compulsory dues and fees that millions of American employees are forced to fork over in order to keep their jobs.
“As a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of monopoly privileges for union bosses, Chris Bohner has little in common with members and supporters of National Right to Work. Nevertheless, Right to Work advocates owe him a debt of gratitude.
“He has put a spotlight on two important, undeniable facts.
“First, the financial resources that bosses of big unions have at their disposal are huge, dwarfing those of political, civil rights, and environmental organizations.
“Second, Big Labor’s net assets and revenue both grew far more rapidly than the rate of inflation over the past decade.
“The union hierarchy was able to pull this off largely by jacking up the dues extracted per worker subject to union monopoly bargaining, and by ravenous feeding at the government trough.
“Today, despite the commendable spread of Right to Work protections over the past decade, nearly half of our country’s private-sector employees remain vulnerable, under federal law, to being fired for refusal to fork over dues or fees to a union they don’t want.”
Except for state and local government unions that do not have any private-sector union members at all, all labor unions in America have been required for roughly six decades to file financial reports, commonly referred to as “LM-2’s,” with the DOL. (The forms filed by smaller unions are formally known as LM-3’s and LM-4’s.)
Membership Losses ‘Did Not Adversely [Affect] Union Finances’
“Labor’s Fortress of Finance” aggregates data furnished to the DOL by more than 13,000 union entities, cross-checking its findings with union bosses’ IRS and U.S. Economic Census filings.
The study concludes that the decline in total union membership from 14.72 million in 2010 to 14.25 million in 2020 “did not adversely [affect] union finances.”
Over the decade, Organized Labor’s net assets (assets minus liabilities) grew by 91%, or nearly five times as fast as the average consumer price inflation (CPI) for U.S. cities.
Meanwhile, total union revenues surged from $14.25 billion in 2010 to $18.3 billion in 2020, marking a gain of 28.4%, more than half again as great as inflation.
“Of the $18.3 billion Big Labor raked in in 2020,” noted Mr. Mix, “$15.6 billion was extracted from unionized workers in the form of dues, fees, and so-called ‘per capita taxes.’
“And it seems that, in the 23 states that still lack Right to Work protections for employees, union bosses can jack up the amount of dues a worker has to pay, or be fired, almost at will.
“According to Chris Bohner’s analysis, the amount of dues annually extracted per union member soared from $818 in 2010 to $1,091 in 2020.
“That represents an increase of 33.4%, or nearly double the CPI! And it accounts for the bulk of the increase in union revenue over the decade.”
Union Bosses Increase Pay For Themselves, Pour More Money Into Politics
“Labor’s Fortress of Finance” has garnered accolades from radical critics of Big Labor’s status quo like Eric London and Hamilton Nolan, who concur with Mr. Bohner’s conclusion that union bosses have plenty of reasons to be happy with the way things are.
“Mr. Bohner and his allies make a number of good points, but they misfire in accusing union officialdom of hoarding its money,” said Mr. Mix.
“The fact is, as Mr. Bohner’s own data show, union bosses show no reluctance to spend money on things that are truly important to them.
“From 2010-20, generally high-paying management positions within Organized Labor soared by 28%, he finds. And the average annual compensation per union official/union staffer rose by a whopping 37%.
“There are now more than 10,000 people on union payrolls earning a gross salary of over $125,000 a year.
“Union bosses also haven’t been hesitant to spend more and more money electing and reelecting their puppet politicians, including current President Joe Biden, and lobbying for and against legislation in Congress.
“According to the Bohner study, from 2010 to 2020, the amount of money Big Labor annually reported spending on politics and lobbying in its DOL disclosure forms — which doesn’t even include a wide array of union-boss ideological expenditures — jumped by 39%, from $574 million to $797 million!”
Mr. Mix emphasized that, extraordinary as the economic and political clout wielded by a handful of union bosses is in an era when fewer and fewer workers are choosing to be union members, the anomaly would be even more striking had it not been for the remarkable recent successes of the Right to Work movement.
Nationwide Protections For Right to Work Needed To Curb Big Labor Abuses
“Just since 2012,” pointed out Mr. Mix, “freedom-loving grassroots activists, assisted by National Right to Work staff and members, “have increased the number of Right to Work states from 22 to 27.
“Today, thanks largely to tireless Right to Work lobbying efforts, the holders of almost 80 million American private-sector jobs are protected by state law from forced union dues.
“Unfortunately, roughly as many jobs remain subject to federal labor-law provisions empowering Big Labor to get workers fired unless they join or bankroll a union, regardless of whether this union helps them, hurts them, or has no discernable impact on their life.
“And union bosses continue to exploit the monopoly power they wield over employees in states like California, New York, and Illinois to maintain and expand what is already the biggest political machine in the country.
“That’s why S.406/H.R.1275, legislation banning forced union dues and fees as a condition of employment in all 50 states, isn’t simply a matter of protecting the individual worker’s rights, as profoundly important as that is.
“The fact is, S.406/H.R.1275, commonly known as the National Right to Work Act, is also necessary to end at last the decades-long domination of Big Labor special interests over American governance. Practically speaking, no other legislative remedy will suffice.”