Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Real Threat To Unions

Stan Godlewski, Hartford Courant
As June opened, the State Democratic Party held a fundraiser in Hartford. The usual political celebrities were in attendance, along with deep-pocket notables. For once in a long while, state unions in Connecticut were on the outside looking in – and protesting.

It was a difficult moment for union-friendly Democratic politicians.  Passing by State AFL-CIO President Lori Pelletier, Comptroller Kevin Lembo paused for a moment, bussed Ms. Pelletier on the cheek, acknowledged the protesters, and moved into the Hartford Convention Center to join those hawking for money at the Democratic Party fund-raising event.


Money, everyone knows, is the mother’s milk of politics. A political organization without money has no power; for power, the ability to convert ideas into practice flows in the rut of money. U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, one of the attendees at the fundraiser, has often complained that he must spend a good portion of his time in Congress on the phone, chatting up large donors, a painful process familiar to all office holders. The public is beginning to notice the money-power connection, a constant theme of Bernie Sanders’ quixotic quest for the Presidency on the Democratic Party ticket. These days, every politician is bought by someone, and Democratic politicians are by no means safe from the politically fatal accusation that influential donors have them on a short leash. Republicans are often cited as being the party of the rich, but in truth the fat-cats on Wall Street against whom Mr. Sanders has raised a stink contribute equally to both parties.  

Many of the union protesters wearing shirts emblazoned with the motto “UNION POWER” likely were Sanders supporters. All of them want Governor Dannel Malloy’s “progressive” government to take a stick to rich people in Connecticut, boost the progressive income tax, and cease and desist grinding the faces of the poor. But in fact, as Policy Director of the Yankee Institute Suzanne Bates reminds us, the Malloy administration did raise taxes on the rich; Mr. Malloy and progressive Democrats in the General Assembly, bowing to union pressure, increased the top tax rate “for single people making over $500,000, or a married couple making over $1 million” by 0.29 percent, a measure that was supposed to increase personal income tax receipts by $151.5 million. Despite the progressive knock on the rich, income tax receipts “continue to decline -- dropping $425 million below projections made before taxes were increased.” In its downward plunge, Connecticut is beginning to taste the bitter fruit of diminishing returns: It is no longer true in Connecticut that more taxes mean more revenue.

Mr. Malloy, attempting to adjust a chronically out-of-balance budget, has sworn off raising taxes, because Connecticut, which has not yet recovered fully from the Bush-Obama recession, is heavily reliant for its tax revenue on large financial operations in the state; in addition, Connecticut  is losing revenue as one-percenters and large companies move to less punishing, low-tax, low-regulatory environments. In his recent budget, Mr. Malloy, the architect of the largest and second largest tax increases in Connecticut history, facing yet another deficit, did what previous Connecticut governors have done from time immemorial: He cut spending across the board, shifted dedicated funds from one to another non-lockbox spending pile, and announced some layoffs. State workers in the executive and judicial branches so far have received only half of the 1,900-to-2,000 layoff notices “the governor said two months ago that he anticipated being ordered by June 10,” according to a posting in CTMirror.

Following the boycotted fund gathering event, union rank and file protesters, including Ms. Pelletier, disbanded, no doubt congratulating themselves on having made an important political point or two. Only a hand full of protesters showed up. Many influential in the labor movement were in attendance at other events, and some accessed the fund raiser through other entrances, perhaps fearing backlash from the politicians and the rank and file to which they pander.
     
In the absence of structural changes in how government gets and spends revenue, “necessary” layoffs will continue; however, all state unions are facing an existential threat in new administrative reforms being pressed upon states by the national AFL-CIO union leadership.

At a meeting last March, Ms. Pelletier advised union members that a “mandatory reorganization of all the Central Labor Councils (CLCs)” had been put on the table. The National AFL-CIO, Ms. Pelletier told the group, according to minutes of the meeting, “wants this reorganization to be completed by June of this year.” The reorganization would entail an "agreed upon” confiscation of all per capita income -- i.e. union dues paid by all the Central Labor Councils CLCs.

Under the new arrangement, CLCs would be reformed into “Chapters.” Money and authority would flow from disbanded CLCs to an “area organization(s),” a new group of labor business administrators “which all the chapters are a part of,” according to a message issued by AFL-CIO Northeast Guild Officer Jan Schaffer.

Following the establishment of the provisionally titled “Regional Federation of Labor” apparatus -- targeted to be in place by the end of June -- protesters at the concluded Democratic Party fund raiser likely will see a money raid on reorganized CLC bank accounts by the new mandated regional apparatus. And (see above) he who has the money will forcefully wield power under pain of non-compliance. Under the new arrangement, CLCs would lose their much prized autonomy to as yet uninstalled administrators, who then would parcel out funds and marching orders to former CLCs -- renamed “Chapters” in a larger book written by regional or even national leaders.

Little or none of this information has yet filtered down to union rank and file members. Only delegates and those with approved credentials are allowed to attend the meeting at Connecticut’s annual AFL-CIO convention in Hartford on June 9th and 10th. One may expect resistance from delegates not in agreement the new national AFL-CIO edict, but that resistance can only begin after rank and file unionized workers become aware that delegates and other decision makers have failed to be transparent with members not privy to orders from above issued by leaders who fear transparency and honest dealing.
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