By Jason Hart | Watchdog.org
Taxes siphoned by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees let the union pay its staff and officers an average of $103,623 last year.
Linda Canan Stephens, executive assistant to AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Laura Reyes, was paid $371,390. AFSCME President Lee Saunders was paid $348,745, and Strategic Communications Director Joseph Lawrence was paid $310,500.
Reyes, who was paid $279,910, was one of 10 AFSCME officers and employees paid more than $250,000 each in salary, “allowances” and other disbursements. AFSCME did not respond to a request for comment on compensation reported to the U.S. Department of Labor.
While private-sector union spending can harm workers, employers and hit customers with higher costs, taxpayers throughout the country are stuck with the tab for spending by AFSCME and other public-sector labor unions.
AFSCME deducts dues from members’ taxpayer-funded paychecks. In 21 states and Washington, D.C., AFSCME and its affiliates can take hundreds of dollars per year in mandatory “agency fees” from nonmembers.
As of Dec. 31, AFSCME had 1,337,126 members and 125,255 forced agency-fee payers, based on the labor union’s annual report to the Department of Labor. AFSCME’s Washington, D.C., headquarters collected $178,668,843 from its state and local affiliates.
In 2014, AFSCME headquarters paid 566 officers and employees an average of $103,623. In addition to the 10 officers and employees paid more than $250,000 each, 16 were paid between $200,000 and $250,000 and 60 were paid between $150,000 and $200,000.
Saunders, who has been paid more than $1 million in worker dues during the past three years, vociferously calls for bigger government to keep the AFSCME machine humming.
In a March 18 statement, Saunders endorsed the federal budget proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus — a group of hard-left Democrats founded in the 1990s by democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, one of Vermont’s U.S. senators.
“The budget alternative put forth by the Congressional Progressive Caucus will grow the economy by creating jobs and investing in our future,” Saunders said.
The Republican majority’s budget “doubles down on harmful sequestration cuts and guts vital programs, while robbing more than 16 million Americans of their health care,” Saunders said.
With the federal government $18 trillion in debt and Saunders paid roughly $350,000 every year, how has AFSCME maintained the pressure for increased government spending?
In addition to lining pockets at AFSCME headquarters, government workers’ AFSCME dues support “progressive” politicians and activist groups to the tune of millions of dollars each year.
This is an important distinction between public-sector and private-sector unions, Greg Lawson, a policy analyst at the free-market Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions in Columbus, Ohio, explained in an email to Watchdog.
“Private sector unions must, at some level, work constructively with the companies whose employees they represent otherwise jobs may cease to exist,” Lawson said.
“The lack of a profit motive in the public sector changes public sector unions’ calculus and allows them to often reach deeper in taxpayers’ wallets for more funding irrespective of a reasonable cost-benefit analysis,” he said.
“Further, private-sector unions don’t get to help elect their own bosses that they subsequently negotiate with for salary and benefit increases. That does happen frequently in the public sector and it could be argued this represents an inherent conflict of interest.”
AFSCME spent $11 million on campaign contributions and independent expenditures for federal candidates in the 2014 cycle, based on Federal Election Commission data tracked by The Center for Responsive Politics.
AFSCME and its affiliates also contribute to state and local races, where relatively small donations of money taken from taxpayers can result in much higher government spending and, ultimately, higher taxes.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, recently signed an executive order asserting mandatory public-sector union dues violate the First Amendment because all government union business is political.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, expected as soon as next year, potentially could end mandatory union dues for government employees nationwide.
Even if workers are given the ability to opt out of paying AFSCME — as thousands in Wisconsin and Michigan have done under reforms passed in 2011 and 2012, respectively — taxpayers still will be indirectly funding the union through payroll dues deduction from remaining members.