How do unions spend their resources?

Unions bring in money via members’ dues — a small percentage of union worker’s salaries. Unions spend that money in a variety of ways: recruiting new members; providing services, like legal defense, to their existing members; lobbying policy makers; contributing to political campaigns; and more. 

Comprehensive numbers are hard to come by, but the California Policy Center, a conservative think tank, estimates that California public sector unions take in $921 million annually. 

With the recent death of national AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, a debate has resurfaced about how unions should best spend their funds. Trumka focused more on forging connections with Democratic leaders and lobbying for new legislation, and less on recruiting new workers to the movement. A leaked internal budget shows that during Trumka’s tenure the federation’s spending on organizing shrunk from 30% of its budget to 10%. 

The California Federation of Teachers serves as another example, because its financial documents are publicly available. The union had about $27 million in net assets at the end of 2020. That year, the union”s political committees spent nearly $4 million on candidates, propositions and ballot measures while its strategic organizing committee spent just $85,000 on communications.

But unions are heavyweight contributors in California politics. They were among the top contributors against the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, particularly health care unions.

Grace Gedye