(CNSNews.com) - Thursday's announcement by Teamsters president James Hoffa that his union was endorsing the presidential candidacy of Democrat Al Gore, is just the latest blow administered to Republicans by the nation's union bosses.
AFL-CIO president John Sweeney is one of the most aggressive supporters of Democrats in Congress, and spends millions of dollars in union dues to fund political campaigns targeting Republicans for defeat.
Rank and file workers say they have become accustomed to the tactics of their union bosses.
"They tell you who to support ... a lot of the time, Democrat. Most of [the time]," said a Washington DC area mechanic with approximately 10 years experience dealing with various factions of the AFL-CIO.
The mechanic requested anonymity because of the current attempt by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers to unionize his shop. The Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union is an AFL-CIO affiliate.
Union officials also spend members' dues in support of various political candidates, the mechanic continued, though "that's not common knowledge." Representatives, he said, do not advertise that fact, opting instead to detail how dues are spent "to support the upkeep of [union] buildings, to pay the business agent, to pay other agent dues."
The mechanic's statements come at a time when AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka - under an FBI investigation for his suspected involvement in a 1996 campaign money-laundering scheme - has assumed a greater public role in endorsing Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, according to a variety of published news reports.
"Trumka is campaigning for Gore by announcing Gore's opposition to union campaign finance reform measures in Oregon," the Associated Press reported Sept. 4.
"Despite the fact that he's under investigation by the FBI in a major campaign money scandal, Richard Trumka is playing a big role this week at the Democratic convention," ABC News broadcast Aug. 15.
"It was alleged Trumka [and another] gave money to the Teamsters, which then found its way into [former Teamsters president Ron Carey's] campaign," said Heritage Foundation research fellow Mark Wilson, explaining the gist of the 1996 scandal and its possible correlation to current political events, though those now in power at the Teamsters are not the same "regime" as the officials suspected of money laundering.
With an estimated 30 to 40 percent of union members claiming alliance to the Republican Party, according to Wilson, and the ongoing debate with campaign contribution reforms, the question emerges whether unions actively seek to oust Republicans from their political seats using, in part, money derived from unsuspecting members.
According to statistics derived from the Center for Responsive Politics, Democratic candidates have received 93 percent of all fiscal union contributions since 1990, as compared to seven percent for Republicans. Those percentages translate into figures of $272,289,333 versus $19,024,909, respectively.
For year 2000 election campaigns, labor organizations have contributed $43,062,318, or 93 percent, to various Democratic candidates and $3,137,745, or seven percent, to Republicans. The figures, according to the CRP site, are derived in part from Federal Election Commission records, and depict collections through July.
"The political power of unions comes from their ability to throw dollars behind the candidates of their choice," Wilson said. "More often than not, they pick a Democrat, but they focus on very specific races. The other key thing when it comes to political power ... unions not only throw the money at the cause, but they also throw bodies at the cause."
Union representatives are often trained political activists, Wilson explained, possessed with the ability, time, and resources to spend an entire election month - like this November - at the site of various union affiliations in order to compel members to vote.
"They have a substantial number of people at the grassroots level driving people to the polls ... in support of particular candidates, in a very focused fashion, on a few key races," he said, adding that the money used to pay those union spokespeople for their activist efforts during election months is unreported - meaning members seeking information on how their dues are spent will find no evidence of those particular expenditures.
The use of union dues for the support of political candidates is not illegal, even if representatives fail to inform their members of the specifics of all contributions. That could change, however, if the Paycheck Protection Act - backed by Republican presidential contender George W. Bush - denying unions the right to spend dues for political purposes without the union member's permission ever gains the approval of Congress.
In the meantime, however, union members must accept the fact that union bosses have control of the dues.
"There ain't much you can do," the mechanic said. "Basically, all unions are alike in that category. There's a big difference between the unions in how they help the people in the [individual] companies, but there's not much [difference] in how they help" political candidates.