By: Mark Glennon*
A chart published last month by Reboot Illinois had to be wrong, I thought. Could membership in Illinois public unions only be around 400,000 — just three percent of Illinois’ population? So small a group couldn’t take the government of Illinois, Chicago and many other municipalities to the edge of collapse, right?
But it’s true. The number checks out. Only 395,000 Illinoisans are public sector union members — three percent of the state.
It’s an extraordinary feat of power acquired by the few. They’ve had their way for decades with both the legislature and governors — Republican governors included (until now). In Chicago, their support has been crucial in making an extreme leftist, Chuy Garcia, a genuine threat to become mayor. Dozens of other cities around the state are withering under impossible pension promises that public unions got Springfield to mandate.
Those members would answer that they’re looking out for others besides themselves, including retired public pensioners. Since public pensions are the primary cause of the crisis, let’s look at membership through that lens. Even if you count public pension beneficiaries broadly, the numbers are small compared to the broad and harsh consequences we are dealing with. Add the number of active workers in state and local governments who will get a pension (605,000), as well as retirees, beneficiaries of deceased workers and disabled recipients (440,000), and you still only get to about 13% of Illinois’ population. (Biennial Report of Illinois Department of Insurance, pages 48-49).
But it’s just the three percent, the members, who comprise the organization, control the lobbying budgets, fund the PACs, make the endorsements and wield the power.
Other groups, too, have influence vastly disproportionate to their numbers, whether through money, organization or finesse. The wealthy, trial lawyers, whatever — pick the groups you don’t like — exert outsized influence over government, sometimes causing enormous harm.
But none ever acquired the influence to cause such harm as to earn us the headline in The Economist last year: America’s Greece. Three percent did that — public union members.
*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints