UNONS WATCH AS IRS REPORTS UNPAID ANNUAL TAXES RISE TO $458 BILLION
The title of this posts comes from a simple but powerful New York Times story that recently explained why the federal government is understaffed, its employees often underpaid, its work largely undone, and its reputation less than stellar. The money that law says should be paid into the US Treasury is not being deposited thanks for a very healthy dose of tax cheats living among us. (This figure does not even include all the companies doing business in the US who rent lofts or just mailboxes in off-shore tax havens to “legitimately” avoid paying what they would owe if they operated as US companies.) If even half this was collected each year there would be far, far fewer worries about Medicare shortfalls, the cost of universal health insurance, crumbling bridges, unsafe drinking water, and zika-like plagues. On the other hand, the tax cheats would be very unhappy, and cut their political contributions to Congressional front men drastically. If an ISIS-connected syndicate was stealing this money from Americans each year, ships would be launched, drones fired up, and boots put all over the ground. But thanks to a few Congressional hitmen who almost daily blame the underfunded IRS for this, Americans move along unaware that this theft cheats every man, woman and child out of about $1,500 a year in federal benefits. So, what can unions do about this?
Logic suggests that the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) would be taking the lead to deal with the issue. After all, it represents the IRS employees, and thanks partly to more than a half decade of severe Congressional underfunding of IRS the union’s membership has been declining for years while other unions have generally increased in size. NTEU has the most to gain immediately from a substantial increase in IRS staffing to go after the tax cheats. It also is sitting on tens of millions in financial reserves that could be targeted for a campaign. But it cannot turn this very powerful political force around alone. It is going to need allies and lots of them. This is not a problem that can be solved with just strong grievance representation or creative bargaining.
However, NTEU has a long history of remaining independent of any long-term alliances with the likes of the AFL-CIO or other progressive groups. It has also avoided getting drawn into social issues impacting anyone outside its own membership. Consequently, it is going to have to break a lot of old habits if it is going to seek the help of the AFL-CIO unions, other progressive groups, and even any significant wing of the media to lead a broad-based effort to pressure Congress and the White House to properly fund IRS to get that extra $1,500.00 every citizen is currently losing in government benefits every year. (Even if it can only collect half the $458 billion each year, it would yield enormous benefits for our country.)
If NTEU can’t or doesn’t want to drive a concerted effort, then perhaps AFGE should. In fact, it might be the better candidate to lead an effort to rescue IRS. After all, it not only is far, far bigger than NTEU and on a long-term membership growth path, but it already has the alliances with the AFL-CIO and other progressive groups in Washington. It also has a record of advocating broad social changes while NTEU is more known for focusing on lawsuits, arbitrations and bargaining efforts. Finally, many of AFGE’s members work for agencies that are also suffering the effects of federal fraud thanks to understaffing, e.g., Medicare and Social Security fraud.
From where we sit, it should not be hard for AFGE to sell other unions and progressive non-labor groups on the value of a well-funded IRS. Obviously, the more money in the federal treasury the more that can be spent on the federal missions AFGE members pursue daily, e.g., public health, illegal immigration, defense, criminal investigations and prosecutions, environmental and housing problems, etc. And it should be just as obvious to the old line construction unions of the AFL-CIO that a fatter federal treasury will lead to more federally funded construction projects, boosting their membership and clout. Service sector unions such as SEIU, AFSCME, etc. should also be easy to enlist in the effort given the potential benefit to them and their members of increased federal benefits and even larger federal grants to state and local government. In fact, taking a very public leadership position to help IRS employees deal with the most fundamental problem they face just might shake up the federal sector union landscape for the better, especially if NTEU does not turn its back on AFGE assistance or try to undermine it.