When the Right Goes After Unions, the Unions Had Better Get Going

The Hudson Institute, which, as prior unbossed stories have shown, has historically been a shill for the tobacco industry, Monsanto products, and more, is now making a huge push to go after unions . . . Unions and their allies should take this attack seriously.

A recent Hudson Institute “study” on pensions, claims (among other things) that comparing union pensions versus company pensions (a vague division of a complex area) shows that unions underfund pensions for their members but generously fund pensions for their own employees. Holy shades of Central States Pension Fund scandal!

The charges, if taken seriously, could be the sort of thing that leads to indictments or at least investigations or at least calls for investigations. What could be a better way to knock out one of Obama’s supporters and supporters of progressive causes than to tar them with scandal and charges of corruption?

The “study” is strong on its results but fails to peel apart distinctions among pension funds that matter. For example, pensions funds are funded by employers, not unions, but you would never know that from the language used. The “study” also fails to point out that, when unions fund their employees’ pensions funds, the union is acting in the capacity of an employer.

It also fails to disaggregate data and talks about all pension funds related in some way to unions as if they were all the same. That is not the case. They differ in their form and in their roles and industries. For example, the construction industry and other industries as well, such as mining have historically used multi-employer pension and benefit funds – also known as Taft-Hartley funds – whose benefits and payments are negotiated as part of collective bargaining agreements and controlled by trustees who are representatives of the employer or union. Other unions negotiate the benefits to be provided by the employer and do not have a multi-employer fund.

For more on Taft-Hartley funds, here is a clear overview.

Consider that these funds operate in industries, such as construction, that have been under huge stress for a number of years, with job losses that may lead to pension underfunding. Without some clearer explanations, it’s impossible to assess the validity of the results.

Consider also that rather than employers being the white knights here, employer after employer has gone to the PBGC to take over and fund pensions for seriously underfunded pensions.

How did the Hudson Institute miss this bit of recent current events?

Unions need to take these charges seriously. Forbes has gone with the story, and there can be no doubt it will be pushed to the max. And getting digs in with this story will only encourage using this tactic to go after more issues that are on the political agenda now and that matter to us.

Dealing with the Hudson Institute takes more than quips. They are well funded and serious. Their “research” has been used to push bad policy in a number of areas. The study gets in a number of serious attacks on unions that may well be picked up and promote negative views about unions. Here is the study.

It should also be noted that the author of the study seems to have been responsible for issuing study after study in a short time period that are forming the intellectual basis for much of the far Right’s agenda right now. As “studies”, they are likely to be given a great deal of credibility.

Here is what the author was doing over her summer vacation.

* 09/07/2009

Union Bigs Get The Best Deals: A Sour Labor Day Lesson on Pensions

* 09/03/2009

Don’t Buy Unions’ Labor Day Bluster

* 08/27/2009

Obama’s Excessively Optimistic Deficit Projections

* 08/20/2009

Turning Uncle Sam into Peeping Tom

* 08/14/2009

Are Women Paid Less Than Men?

* 08/13/2009

Obama’s Health Care Bogeyman Is Obama

* 08/10/2009

Real Madrid, a Threat to Anyone

* 08/06/2009

The High Cost of Medical Malpractice

* 08/06/2009

Reduce The High Cost of Medical Malpractice

* 07/30/2009

The Healthcare Bankruptcy Myth

* 07/23/2009

Is America Ready for Single Payer Healthcare?

* 07/16/2009

A Very Unhealthy Health Bill

* 07/14/2009

Minimum Wage Hike Spreads Blue State Unemployment Misery

* 07/09/2009

Obama, Title IX, and Academics?

* 07/09/2009

Gender Equality: From Sports to Math and Science

* 07/03/2009

Getting a Summer Job: Entrepreneurship for Teens

* 07/02/2009

It’s Time to Go Nuclear

* 06/26/2009

What Will The Climate Change Bill Do to Your Job?

* 06/25/2009

Socialized Medicine Through the Eyes of a Recipient

* 06/19/2009

Starting a Trade War with “Buy America”

* 06/18/2009

A VAT Tax Is Not the Answer

* 06/17/2009

Workers Deserve Better Pension Plan

* 06/11/2009

High-Speed Rail: A Big-Ticket Item That Drives Deficits

* 06/11/2009

A Better Way to Fund Roads

* 06/04/2009

We Face Major Healthcare Choices

* 06/04/2009

The Health Insurance Reform Stakes Begin

* 05/28/2009

Obama Should Ditch Deadly CAFE Standards

As for the study on pensions, it says that unions pressure employers into signing onto union benefit and then use the money for other purposes in the tradition of the troubled Teamsters Central State fund, leaving the workers covered by those funds without the benefits promised. It then says to compare that situation with the funds that cover the employees of unions who get nice well funded benefit plans. This sort of charge fits nicely goes after the popular view in Gallup polls on the public’s view of unions through the years that unions do a nice job for their members.

Some of the findings verge on calling for an investigation of unions pension funds for criminal behavior.

That part of the study has now been used in an op-ed for Labor Day.

Union Bigs Get The Best Deals: A Sour Labor Day Lesson on Pensions

From The New York Daily News on September 7, 2009 by Diana Furchtgott-Roth

This Labor Day, unions are once again seeking to recruit new members with promises of higher wages and generous pension benefits. These promises are made despite pension funds’ reports to the U.S. Labor Department showing that collectively bargained pension funds are underfunded when compared with other pensions.

In contrast, pension funds for unions’ own staff and officers have been doing just fine.

In 2006, the latest year for which full data are available, only 17% of union-negotiated plans were fully funded, compared with 35% of nonunion plans.

Under the Pension Protection Act of 2006, funds with less than 80% of assets are in “endangered” status. In 2006, 41% of union funds were “endangered,” compared with 14% of nonunion funds.

Whether it’s best to go after the study directly or to take pieces of it apart and go after the ideas, without naming the source, is a matter of strategy and tactics.

It is important to go after every piece of what is claimed in that study and take them on in as serious a way as they are after unions and other progressive forces in our society.

Forbes may describe the Hudson Institute as “conservative leaning”. What it really is is a shill for the tobacco industry, pesticide use, anything made by Monsanto, and so on. It is funded by hard right groups like Scaife. Its most active activist is Alex A. Avery, Director of Research and Education, Center for Global Food Issues. Given what it is, how could anyone cite anything it says with a straight face. its stock in trade is creating astroturf groups, such as Avery’s Earth Friendly, Farm Friendly.

More on the Hudson Institute and its fellow travelers here.






This article originally appeared in Unbossed on September 8, 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.