Analysis

Union In Potential Landmark Case Gave To Sharpton, Progressives, Dem Party

Supreme Court ruling expected on state worker’s claim that government unions inherently political

While a union might be thought of as an organization that focus on workplace conditions and wages, the political activities of one union may lead to a significant change in labor law across the country.

A May 11 article on the website Labor Notes discussed the Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME, which could effectively bring right-to-work to public employees nationwide. In it, a union official questioned the motivation of Mark Janus, who brought suit against the union at his workplace. “What convinced Mr. Janus to join this destructive lawsuit?” asked Donnie Killen, a vice president of AFSCME Local 2600, and like Janus, a state of Illinois employee. “Your guess is as good as mine,” he answered. One reason may have something to do with the Rev. Al Sharpton and a host of progressive political causes.

In 2017, the national union paid $50,000 to be a sponsor for an event of the National Action Network, an organization run by Sharpton. That was just one of many progressive or liberal organizations the union has supported over the years with millions of dollars in political donations and other support.

Such activism becomes problematic in unionized government workplaces where all employees are required to pay fees to a union such as AFSCME. Some individuals do not support its political positions and spending, and they say that such fees are contrary to the U.S. Constitution.

Whether that claim is valid is among the questions raised by Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which most observers say will be decided by the end of June. In the suit, Janus says that being forced to pay fees to AFSCME violates his First Amendment rights because public sector unions are inherently political entities.

If the court agrees and rules in his favor, it would have the same effect as passing right-to-work legislation for public sector employees across the United States. They would no longer have to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment, with significant implications for political donations.

Over the course of campaign cycles from 1990 to 2018, the AFSCME national union made $115 million in political contributions. Nearly all of that money, 99.4 percent, went to Democratic or liberal causes, according to the website Open Secrets.org, which is a project of The Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. So far during the 2018 campaign cycle, AFSCME has made $4.8 million in political donations, with 99.9 percent of that going to Democratic or liberal causes.

According to documents AFSCME’s national office filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, the union spent $26.5 million on political activities and lobbying in 2017.

The union’s 2017 LM-2 filing discloses money given to groups such as Americans for Democratic Action ($5,000), the Atlantic County (New Jersey) Democratic Committee ($10,000), the California Democratic Party ($50,000) and EMILY’s List, a pro-abortion political action committee ($110,000). AFSCME also gave money to a Democratic and progressive political consultant called the Atlas Project ($75,000).

AFSCME Council 25 in Lansing did not respond to an email asking why a public sector employee who is a conservative would want to support an organization that supports liberal causes he or she personally opposes.