By Jake Novak
Government workers are just like the rest of us. Some are great employees, some are not. Some are very smart, others less so. Just working for the government, even as a teacher, doesn’t make a person better or worse than any other law-abiding working person.
But there’s one thing government workers have that makes them very special indeed: Public worker unions.
Those unions, like AFSCME, AFGE, AFT, NEA, and all the others across the country wield tremendous power. For years, the conventional wisdom was that union political power primarily came from rank and file members at the ballot box. The belief was that union voters vote as a block based on what their union leaders tell them.
Not so much.
As Democrats learned the hard way in 2016, union voters ignored their leadership in droves and voted heavily for Donald Trump in several key areas of the country. Hillary Clinton still won the overall union vote according to most exit polls, but it was by such a small margin that it may have cost her the crucial states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.
Trump isn’t the first Republican to wrest union voters away from their supposed Democratic Party loyalty. So what’s the real source of union political power?
For all the handwringing and whining about the massive amount of corporate donations flowing into political campaigns, unions pour just about as much cash into campaign war chests. And despite the fact that their members don’t vote overwhelmingly for one party or another, those same unions give their money almost exclusively to Democrats.
In other words, union dues have been a piggy bank for the Democratic Party for decades and those millions of union members who didn’t agree with the one-sided party preference couldn’t do anything about it.
Last week’s Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME has blown up this corrupt model, hopefully for good. Not only will it allow government workers who opt out of the union to forgo paying union dues, it will also make membership in those unions an “opt-in” scenario rather than taking their membership as a given the day they’re hired.
In states like Wisconsin, where state workers have had similar freedoms, public union membership and buying power has fallen off a cliff. The jig is up.
But this isn’t just a blow to Democratic Party campaigns. It’s also a very positive move for better government overall. Because the Democrats who dominate blue state governments and the taxpayer money those governments spend know where their bread is buttered when it comes to budget time.
Sure, it may seem crazy for unions to spend millions of dollars annually on Congressional and local candidates. But when you see how many more millions and billions come back to the unions in bloated government hiring, big ticket government projects, and their priceless job security, you can see why it’s worth it.
Of course for the taxpayers, it’s not worth it. That union donation machine is a direct cause of out–of-control spending at almost every level of our government. Just look at our $21 trillion federal debt. You can draw a straight line connecting the acceleration in our debt growth to the day President John F. Kennedy approved the formation of federal government workers in 1962.
In the ten years before JFK allowed for federal worker unions, the national debt grew a total of 15%. In the ten years after that, it grew by 43%. Yes, the period of 1962-72 included the Vietnam War and President Lyndon Johnson’s massive expansion of the welfare state. But those two factors are not detached from the added power provided to federal workers. Remember, Vietnam and the Great Society boosted the need for more federal workers and federal contracting than anything America had seen since World War II.
Make no mistake, public worker unions will continue to exist. But their reduced financial power thanks to the Janus decision means they will come down closer to the level the rest of us have been living on for the last 50-plus years. Perhaps now, government workers will be forced to contribute to 401 (K)’s instead of getting guaranteed pensions. Perhaps now, government workers will lose their priceless indemnity from layoffs. Perhaps now, pleasing government workers first and the voters second will become a thing of the past for elected leaders.
This is a country that’s supposed to be by the people, of the people, and for the people. But it’s increasingly become a nation by the government, of the government, and for the government.
Janus gives us some of the first real pushback on this disturbing trend that began more than a century ago. This, along with President Trump’s successful move to reduce the time it takes to dismiss poor performing federal workers, should give us renewed hope that this country is still ruled by the people and not the bureaucrats.
Jake Novak has been a TV news producer and editorial columnist for more than 25 years, with expertise in political, economic, religious, and cultural issues. He has produced shows at CNBC, CNN, FOX, and several local stations across the country. Novak is a graduate of the Yeshivah of Flatbush, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University, and a master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny and watch out for future columns on 5TJT.com.