Curtis Shelton | April 17, 2019

How much do unions spend on politics in Oklahoma?

Curtis Shelton

Even in right-to-work states such as Oklahoma, public-sector unions affect how government operates. Last year’s teacher walkout, for example, was organized and funded by the Oklahoma Education Association and the National Education Association. This sort of political activity and spending has become common for many public sector unions in Oklahoma and across the country. A website called has collected data on this spending for thousands of unions.

The chart below shows Oklahoma’s top five public unions in terms of total political spending, and the partisan split for Republicans or Democrats.

UnionYearsPolitical SpendingDemocratRepublican
Oklahoma Education Association1999-2017$1,340,68677.5%22.5%
Oklahoma Public Employees Association1999-2017$876,39948.5%51.5%
Oklahoma City Federation of Teachers Local 23092015-2017$194,63890.6%9.4%
Oklahoma Retired Educators Association1999-2017$160,75073.0%27.0%
Oklahoma City Retired Fire Fighters Association2002-2017$145,37561.5%38.5%

Some spending was used to support or oppose ballot initiatives or third-party candidates and was therefore classified as non-partisan.

As the chart shows, a majority of this spending supports Democratic candidates. This is typical of most unions across the country but may be somewhat of a surprise considering Oklahoma’s recent outcomes in statewide and national elections.

In recent years, union influence has attracted attention and criticism. Last June, in the landmark case Janus v. AFSMCE, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, on the grounds of free speech and association, for government employees to be compelled to pay unions as a condition of employment. Employees who disagree with a union’s ideology or simply don’t want to be a part of the union have the right to opt-out.

While the Janus decision did not apply directly to Oklahoma because it is a right-to-work state, the Supreme Court did state that a union with an exclusive bargaining policy “substantially restricts the nonmembers’ rights.” This does include teacher unions in Oklahoma, which are granted exclusive power to represent teachers.

Even if a teacher has opted out of paying union dues, that union still has the power to speak for the employee on employment matters. Many of these teachers, members or not, have never had the right to vote on what union should represent them if any.

In the past there have been bills filed in Oklahoma that would give teachers the chance to vote on whether to keep their union. This is a policy many Oklahomans support. A new Cor Strategies poll shows that 84.4% of voters support the idea of allowing teachers to vote on who represents them.

Curtis Shelton Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton

Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton currently serves as a policy research fellow for OCPA with a focus on fiscal policy. Curtis graduated Oklahoma State University in 2016 with a Bachelors of Arts in Finance. Previously, he served as a summer intern at OCPA and spent time as a staff accountant for Sutherland Global Services.

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