Federal and postal unions, using voluntary contributions from members, have written checks worth $594,647 to the election or reelection campaigns of 210 Democratic candidates this year. When it comes to Republicans, however, the unions representing 1.8 million U.S. workers have sprinkled only $27,624 among 13 Republican candidates.
Is there a message?
Two years ago, a majority of the members of the groups -- the American Federation of Government Employees, National Treasury Employees Union, National Federation of Federal Employees, National Association of Retired Federal Employees, American Postal Workers Union and the Letter Carriers union-- voted Republican, according to their own surveys. This year, many of the same people are contributing at unheard-of levels (for federal workers) to elect Democrats.
In 1980, many feds were ticked off by what they felt was an antibureaucrat Carter administration.
In addition to being dissatisfied with Carter because of national, international (remember Iran?) and economic issues, many civil servants felt that the president went out of his way to do mean, petty things to them: cutting off the hot water in federal buildings here and charging token fees to park at the office.
Reagan's promise to improve economic conditions and not to cut federal retirement benefits wooed many of the nation's 2.8 million civil servants into the GOP column.
Reagan turned the hot water back on, but only after he slapped a freeze on federal hiring. He did an about-face on his pension pledge and supported the bipartisan congressional drive to limit federal and military retirees to one cost-of-living raise a year instead of two inflation catch-ups.
Combined White House and congressional budget cuts eliminated nearly 50,000 federal jobs, mostly through attrition. Just over 9,000 feds were riffed (fired for economy reasons), about 3,000 of them in metropolitan Washington, which now has 348,000 federal workers.
The ripple effects of the rifs -- people bumping others out of jobs, or being demoted -- hit many more. It created the kind of morale problem in the federal work force that normally is associated with layoffs in Detroit, Youngstown and Pittsburgh.
Furloughs -- some generated by budget cuts, some by congressional inaction and some by political appointees eager to win gold stars for being hard-nosed businessmen -- didn't do much to help morale. From the standpoint of productivity lost because of the furloughs and fear of furloughs, the actions probably cost the taxpayers a lot more than they saved.
Federal postal and union leaders have, with some exceptions, traditionally favored Democrats over Republicans.
(The then heads of the Letter Carriers union and the AFGE endorsed President Nixon's reelection in return for a big postal pay raise, and a multimillion-dollar change in the federal blue collar pay system that benefitted workers.)
Because of their Democratic slant, government union chiefs have taken flak from members who either supported Republicans or who felt their unions should steer a middle political course and not put their eggs in one party's basket. Times change.
This year the unions' political action and spending is at an all-time high, with only token help going to Republicans.
The American Postal Workers Union says its PAC (political action committee) fund of $370,000 is a 1,000 percent increase over last year.
The National Association of Retired Employees is getting political donations from its frugal members faster than it can log them in.
AFGE President Kenneth Blaylock will be in Utah next week stalking Sen. Orrin Hatch and working against other Republicans running for reelection. The union, which so far has given $177,147 to Democrats, has given $5,500 to Republican candidates. Liberal GOP Sen. Lowell Weicker of Connecticut got $1,500 of AFGE's entire GOP candidate payout.
NARFE says it is helping friends in Congress regardless of party affiliation. Most of the unions, however, say they don't have many Republican friends. "If a Republican comes to us for money," one union official said, "you might say he has two strikes against him before we even talk. Make that two strikes and two outs, in the bottom of the ninth!"