Should Unions Care About Politics? Yes.

President's Report

Volume CVIII, No. 3March, 2008

Mary Landolfi

Click for larger image.

Click for larger image.

Solidarity means sticking together. President Mary Landolfi accepted a plaque of thanks and a soldarity award from the stagehands’ union at a solidarity party thrown by IATSE Local 1 on Feb. 9. Hundreds of union members from the Broadway community attended. In addition to thanking musicians, Local 1 President James Claffey declared that any rumors about poor relations between 802 and Local 1 are completely false. The solidarity plaque now hangs on the wall of the Executive Board room.

As I write this, voters have just cast their ballots on Super Tuesday and the pundits are still analyzing the results.

Aside from the fact that Democrats didn’t have a clear front-runner and Republicans hadn’t yet entirely coalesced behind McCain, there isn’t a lot to say — not that this prevents a great deal of commentary on the subject!

It is always striking how much money is spent by candidates to capture a nomination. As they say, money is the mother’s milk of politics.

There is often discussion at these times about “special interest” politics. Unions are accorded a place among the “special interests” — the implication being that unions (and other interest groups) vie for and receive favorable treatment that they do not deserve based upon campaign donations. Donate enough and the candidate will be in your pocket when your issues come to the fore.

Looked upon in the clear light of day, this is more than a little unseemly and, as a result, many members would prefer that the union butt out of electoral politics and just stick to negotiating contracts.

Fair enough, but if unions and other groups of people with common interests shouldn’t give money to candidates, who should? Every individual, surely, but individual contributions are limited, quite correctly, on the theory that each citizen should have an equal voice.

If citizen A can only afford to contribute $100 and citizen B is free to spend $1 million, our government would rather quickly devolve into an oligarchy with little attention given to the concerns of average families.

Given the limits on individual contributions, though, the money that is needed — particularly for a national campaign — must either come from public funding or through the current contribution system and the lobbyists that are its corollary.

My own opinion is that public funding of elections is something that should be studied and considered, but given that such a drastic change in our electoral policies is not on the horizon, we should examine how best to participate in the system as it exists.

That means that our union, both Local 802 and the AFM, should continue to financially support legislators that hold views favorable to us on the issues.

After all, whom, if not ourselves, should we rely upon to be advocates for issues important to us and our profession?

In the end, I do not believe that unions wield undue influence in our national discourse. Indeed, if as much attention were focused on corporate lobbyists as is directed at the “union bosses,” we would have a much more balanced idea of the extent to which inappropriate pressures are being brought to bear on our legislators and whether organized labor is pulling many strings in our government at all.

That brings me to the question at hand. The AFM and Local 802 use TEMPO and TEMPO802 as our conduit for political contributions and our ability to contribute to our legislative friends is severely limited by the size of these funds.

Members who attended the Feb. 20 membership meeting received an appeal for funds from AFM Washington lobbyist Hal Ponder.

Let this be another appeal.

Do we want to memorialize in legislation the voluntary carry-on standards that Delta Airlines has adopted , or do we want to rely on the airline industry to change these standards when and if they see fit?

Do we want to extend performers’ royalties to terrestrial radio, or do we want to allow the broadcast industry to continue to use our labor to enrich station owners without any payment to the performers who record the product?

Do we want to be part of the push for H.R. 676, or do we want to continue allowing our negotiations to be dominated by the need to bolster health benefits?

The answers to these questions will be decided in part by our willingness to fund the campaigns of candidates that are friendly to us and our concerns. That means that we must continue to contribute to TEMPO.

If you have not yet considered a donation, please do so now. It’s a contribution toward your own current and future interests.

To learn how to donate, call my office at (212) 245-4802, ext. 101.