A Note on the Appearance Before Iowa Unions

By August 19, 2007Labor Unions

The Democratic presidential candidates appeared before Iowa union members Saturday, supplicating. Standard politicking, nothing to get excited about, but one question should have been addressed in the news coverage. (It wasn’t in this AP story, which got major circulation.) How important, how big, is the union presence in Iowa?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 161,000 union members in Iowa in 2006, or 11.3 percent of the workforce, slightly below the national average of 12.0 percent. As a percentage of total employed in the state, the figure had fallen from 11.5 percent in 2005.

Once dominated by the private sector, Iowa’s union membership is now about half-and-half, public and private.

Last presidential election cycle, Bruce Bartlett had an analysis of union membership and their influence in the Democratic caucuses over the years. He posited declining power in Iowa, concluding: “No longer can we assume that the candidate with the strongest union support will be the prohibitive favorite.”

Our point is simpler. When people complain about a tiny minority of Iowans excessively influencing the presidential selection — giving the Republican straw vote a well-deserved kick in the process — they might also mention the minority of a minority that’s determining the Democratic selection: Organized labor in Iowa.

UPDATE (5:50 p.m.): A sampling of Democratic candidates’ views on labor, from the Rocky Mountain News.

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