SHADOWBOSSES: Government Unions Control America and Rob Taxpayers Blind. By Mallory Factor with Elizabeth Factor. Center Street. 304 pages. $24.99.
The sensationalistic subtitle of this book will tell many would-be readers all they need to know. Advance praise from Sean Hannity, Rand Paul, Grover Norquist and other well-known conservatives confirm that this volume is a full-scale polemic against public sector unions at the city, county, state and federal levels of government. Those unions now represent 37 percent of all public workers, while private sector unions represent less than 10 percent of that group.
Mallory Factor, the John C. West Professor of International Politics and American Government at The Citadel, is also a Forbes columnist, political commentator and businessman. Assisted by his wife, Elizabeth, an attorney and consultant, Factor asserts that “Behind taxpayers’ backs, our country is controlled by movers and shakers who manipulate the system for their own advantage. These are the heads of the government employee (public sector) unions: the Shadowbosses.”
This cabal — teachers, firefighters, police, health care workers, postal and other service workers — has gained such power through politics. According to his scenario, unions support pro-labor politicians, who enact pro-labor legislation, which benefits unions, making it easier to organize more workers.
They will contribute more dues, enabling unions to support more friendly politicians, or turn against them if they don’t vote “correctly.”
Factor argues that what makes this different from typical interest group politics in the private sector is that these public sector workers are paid by taxpayers, not corporations. He notes that while many public sector unions cannot bargain directly with government, they can lobby for increased compensation and benefits.
According to Factor, the major key to public sector union power is the “forced dues” that unions collect from members, which provide funds for organizing, lobbying and campaigning. But these unions, established by majority vote, administer the contract and represent all employees at worksites, grievance proceedings and other labor issues.
Dues are usually deducted from paychecks as part of the union contract. Workers who decline to pay dues or do not want their dues used to support candidates they oppose usually pay lower agency fees, and are seen as “Free Riders” by their peers.
Another key to union power is the possibility of a strike, even if it is illegal. Note though that the recent, brief Chicago teachers’ strike had widespread public support.
Are private sector workers underpaid or are public sector workers overpaid? Factor is sure it is the latter, although he concedes that “it still remains a much-debated question.” He warns of “bloated” pensions, arguing that unfunded liabilities will bankrupt states. However, the states’ past failures to adequately fund pensions as well as market losses from the Great Recession are much more significant factors in this situation.
Factor’s last full chapter, titled “Insurrection,” calls for revolt against the Shadowbosses. Using Star Wars’ references, he lauds Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as a “Luke Skywalker of this new rebellion” and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the new “Han Solo ... fighting the Imperial forces once again” by advocating cutbacks in compensation and benefits as well as restricting or eliminating public sector unions’ bargaining rights. Factor lauds states that prohibit public sector unionization. But others would argue that all workers, public and private, deserve a meaningful voice in the decisions that affect their lives on the job and in retirement.
The book includes “Summary Points” at the end of each chapter. The 75 pages of endnotes show the research base of the book. Many notes reference conservative and libertarian publications and websites, such as the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, and the National Right to Work Committee.
While Factor raises some valid concerns, his hyperbolic partisan rhetoric reduces the book to an anti-union polemic: “labor bosses” and “union thugs” “scam” the public.
Obama’s election brought about “the real socialist America.” Public sector unions and their political action committees “work hand in glove with the vast left-wing conspiracy, sometimes called the Shadow Democrat Party.”
Contrast this demonization of public sector unions with our iconic images of the heroes of 9/11 in NYC — firefighters, EMTs, police — who were all public sector union members.
Neither unions nor corporations are flawless in operation. But some might argue that the real Shadowbosses, the real malfactors “who manipulate the system for their own advantage,” are those who oppose significant reform of the financial system, try to change regulatory agencies from watchdogs to lapdogs, restrict voting, and privatize as many public agencies and functions as possible.
Perhaps the most prominent of this group are billionaires David and Charles Koch, who have helped fund the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which provides pro-business bills for legislators at all levels to introduce as their own with little or no editing. Since Factor also denounces “crony capitalism,” perhaps his next polemic will be on that topic.
Reviewer George W. Hopkins is professor emeritus of history at the College of Charleston.