Report: Washington ranks No. 11 in public sector union share of political contributions

Yesterday, we questioned whether this year’s teacher strikes were, at least to some extent, exhibiting a Janus effect. In the Janus case, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus ruled that public sector workers could not be compelled to pay union fees. Observers, as we noted yesterday, have suggested that the decision meant unions would work harder to demonstrate their worth.

One element of that demonstration might include taking a harder line in collective bargaining. Given the significant amount of new funding provided the schools for compensation last session, bargaining was always going to be tough this year, so it’s hard to make a strong case that Janus exerted much influence, but maybe some.

The court’s decision is also expected to take a toll on the political spending of public employee unions. The Governing magazine article we cited yesterday examines the wide variation among the states in public employee union spending as a share of all political contributions. 

To assess public-sector unions’ current political spending, Governing reviewed data on state election contributions reported by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Nationally, union spending pales in comparison to that of large corporations and major industries. In 2016 and in the limited number of state contests of 2017, public-sector unions contributed $82 million to state-level candidates and party committees, an amount that’s just over 3 percent of total contributions to these campaigns.

In select states, however, unions are more significant spenders. Between 2014 and last year, Minnesota’s public-sector unions contributed $73 million to state candidates and committees, accounting for nearly 8 percent of total contributions within the state — the highest share nationally. As one might expect, unions in blue states tend to spend the most. But there are exceptions. In Alabama, a red state with a right-to-work law, they represented almost 7 percent of total contributions over the four-year period.

Washington, as the table below (from the article) shows, ranked 11th, with the public sector share of political contributions pegged at 3.6 percent. With just 0.2 percent of political contributions coming from public employee unions, Arkansas ranked 50th.

The long-term effect of the decision is uncertain.

“Where unions have had the greatest political impact,” says Ken Jacobs of the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley, “has been in their ability to move their membership to vote and engage in public policy.”…

In solidly blue California, Jacobs doesn’t expect a big short-term impact on the participation of public-sector unions in politics, but labor’s role in the long run remains an open question. “We could see a lot more where public policy influence comes through both engagement of members and engagement of the community,” he says, “because that’s what unions will have to do to maintain their membership. They could come out stronger in the end.” 

Something to watch.