Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

  1. NYC Construction Union Leadership: Male, Pale, and Stale

    We recently noted that the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC) is promoting itself as an advocate for jobs and opportunity for minority workers in New York City.

    Here’s one of their ads, emphasizing how many apprenticeships are going to non-white union members:

    NYC BCTC Apprentices advert

    We found the emphasis on apprentices curious. While it’s surely notable that two-thirds of local appreciates are minorities, it raises the question: Who’s getting the higher-level, better-paying jobs?

    A review of the leadership of the BCTC, which represents the city’s major construction unions, isn’t promising. As we note in an advertisement in the New York Daily News, the union leadership is historically exclusively “male, pale, and stale”—older white dudes as famously noted (regarding national unions) by former SEIU President Andy Stern.



    To determine whether the monochromatic leadership is indicative of any broader trends, we used Census Bureau data to look at the average hourly earnings for white and black employees in New York City’s construction industry. The results, displayed below, don’t look good for the union:

    NYC construction

    Black unionized construction workers makes $5.74 less per hour on average than a white unionized worker, or roughly 20 percent less. Labor groups might argue that white union workers tend to occupy positions in the industry that require more experience, but this begs the question: Why aren’t those higher-level positions equally available to black workers in the industry?

    It’s likely that a contributing cause is the unions’ sordid history of discrimination on the basis of race. In 1999, the Christian Science Monitor reported on allegations of discrimination in New York construction unions (emphasis added):

    “This has been a way of life in the construction trades for a very long time. NYU is just the latest case,” says Jim Haughton, who heads Harlem Fight Back, a group that began organizing black construction workers in the early 1960s. […] The role of racism in hiring was documented in a landmark 1993 study by the New York City Commission on Human Rights that examined the construction trades. The report found underrepresentation of minorities in trade unions greatest among Asians and Latinos. The report also said that white male workers routinely became union members after working at a job site for one to four weeks, while minorities often spend four or five years in an apprenticeship program.

    All told, the evidence suggests that the BCTC of Greater New York may not be the beacon of opportunity to New York City’s non-white community that it claims to be.

    Categories: AFL-CIOBuilding and Construction Trades CouncilCarpenters Union
  2. OUR Walmart fights…OUR Walmart?

    hangoverWe noted reports from a few months ago that the United Food and Commercial Workers’ front group OUR Walmart might be dead, with the union cutting off at least some of its financial support. Those reports apparently weren’t the full story—the full story is even more entertaining.

    Apparently, the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front—er, OUR Walmart and a new OUR Walmart that split off from the old one—are fighting over which is the “true” OUR Walmart. Reuters reports on the “new boss”:

    A Wal-Mart Stores Inc worker group that has been one of the loudest voices pushing the retailer to boost wages and improve conditions has splintered over a disagreement about funding and strategic direction, according to people on both sides of the split.


    Both wings are claiming the name OUR Walmart and vow to continue their work, moves that could sow confusion among supporters.

    The “new OUR Walmart” officially re-launched late last week, to essentially no fanfare and much confusion. The splitters are literally the old OUR Walmart bosses: The former UFCW employees who used to run the original OUR Walmart are leading the effort. The funding source doesn’t appear that different either, with the rebels reportedly backed by a cattle-call of labor union-funded nonprofit groups including Demos, New York Communities for Change, and Interfaith Worker Justice (among others).

    The UFCW, however, has other ideas—it intends to continue promoting a separate OUR Walmart campaign as the “true” OUR Walmart. Politico reports:

    Meanwhile, UFCW tells us it will continue to fund its own, separate OUR Walmart campaign to improve pay and working conditions for Wal-Mart employees. There appears to be a dispute between the relaunched OUR Walmart and the UFCW about who possesses rights to that name. On the one hand, OUR Walmart has always been a nonprofit legally independent from UFCW. On the other, a source familiar with the UFCW campaign says UFCW still owns the trademark for OUR Walmart, including the campaign’s name, logo, website and Facebook page.


    That same source says the former UFCW members now presiding over the OUR Walmart relaunch “were fired because [they] hijacked the board and refused democratic elections…[and] because of mistakes they made that led to seven injunctions in seven states…that angered workers.” But sources familiar with the OUR Walmart relaunch say the breach occurred because UFCW cut funding for the OUR Walmart campaign — a claim UFCW denies.

    We have no idea whom to believe, as both sides’ allegations are fully in character for Big Labor. Hijacking the board and refusing democratic elections would hardly be unprecedented in the union movement. Indeed this year, federal regulators at the Department of Labor have entered 16 voluntary compliance agreements with unions that have improperly conducted their officer elections.

    And it’s entirely plausible that UFCW cut funding for OUR Walmart—it wasn’t paying off. The new UFCW leadership quite plausibly wasn’t happy that OUR Walmart was sucking up money but not returning any of the union investment in union dues.

    Far from the sign of a campaign on the right track, the “relaunch” of the splitter OUR Walmart is a sign that this organization effort hasn’t paid off for UFCW and that six-figure union organizers need somewhere to keep working. Meanwhile, union front groups are fighting each other.

    Categories: Anti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsUFCWWorkers Center
  3. ERA Takes Center Stage in Labor Debate

    2035478770_be44a99e4cWisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who rose to national prominence by reforming public-employee labor law in his state, gave a major policy speech on labor relations in Las Vegas yesterday. In a wide-ranging call for reform to public and private employment law, Walker endorsed key provisions of the Employee Rights Act (ERA) and called for Congress to pass the bill “immediately.”

    Our Executive Director explains some of the potential benefits the ERA could offer supporters like Gov. Walker in a Washington Examiner op-ed today. He writes:

    In other words, the ERA is pretty uncontroversial stuff. For these reasons, it has enormously broad-based appeal. The eight measures poll near 80 percent approval from the American public, and are equally supported by union and non-union households. […]

    That’s not to say that Big Labor and its sycophants are not without a response to the ERA. They claim it is an attack on the unions that “brought you the weekend” or “the eight hour workday.” But even conceding such vacuous responses, the ERA does not attack collective bargaining or mandatory dues in union shops. It doesn’t attack pensions, wages or benefits. Or the weekend.

    The broad support for ERA’s package of reforms that would amount to the broadest reform to American labor law since 1947 is perhaps the bill’s greatest strength. With employees across America dealing with union abuses ranging from surprise “card check” organizing campaigns to intimidation of union dissidents, the ERA could not be more necessary. We echo Governor Walker’s call to Congress to immediately act on the ERA, and hope that more prominent public figures take stands in its favor.

    Categories: Employee Rights Act
  4. Detroit Teachers Union President Taken Down

    We’ve followed with interest the problems of American Federation of Teachers Local 231, the Detroit Federation of Teachers. In January, taking a cue from the Chicago local’s election of radical Karen Lewis in 2010, union voters narrowly picked agitator Steve Conn to be the union’s president.

    That didn’t go well. Not in the predicted way—creating a radical union standing in the schoolhouse door placing its own interests ahead of students. No, Conn found a new path of failure which earned him an impeachment hearing. The DFT’s Executive Board voted to sack him from office and expel him from the union.

    The union board found that Conn had done the following: failed to pay the union’s required “per capita tax” assessments to national headquarters; improperly affiliated with the rabble-rouser group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN);  improperly changed meeting times; and failed to investigate and remedy abuse and violence against DFT members.

    BAMN apparently caused all sorts of problems. The Detroit News reports what the union disciplinary panel found:

    “There was testimony that BAMN members attended and participated in the January 25 special membership meeting and were abusive to DFT members,” the executive board notice stated. “At the February regular membership meeting the members voted to exclude them from the meeting. President Conn then failed and refused to preside over the next three regular membership meetings and instead held three more special membership meetings.”

    Conn is now fighting for his seat: Under DFT rules, a two-thirds vote of members at the next general meeting would reinstate him, and if that fails Conn has vowed a lawsuit. In the meantime, we’ll go get the popcorn ready.

    Categories: AFT
  5. Not-So-High Times for the UFCW

    In California, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) has a multi-year ongoing campaign to organize workers in the budding retail marijuana industry. In 2011, UFCW organizers appeared with dispensary owners calling for San Jose to allow more dispensaries to open and be unionized by UFCW. Pot shops also hoped that closer alignment with the union would ease threatened pressure from the Obama Administration, which had vowed a federal crackdown on the grey-market businesses.

    It seems some UFCW bosses, however, had different reasons to curry favor with pot shops. Federal investigators have charged Daniel Rush, an organizing coordinator with the national UFCW’s “cannabis division” who was paid $131,765 from member dues in 2014, with taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks from pot industry businessmen. The East Bay Express gives a detailed accounting of the allegations, while SFGate reports:

    From 2010 to 2014, Rush received money or other items of value from people representing the employers of potential union members, in violation of federal law, authorities said. The affidavit says Rush borrowed $600,000 in cash from a marijuana dispensary operator but was unable to repay the debt.

    In exchange for forgiveness of this personal debt, Rush and an attorney he works with “took steps to provide various labor benefits to the (dispensary operator), including union support for opening dispensaries and reducing or eliminating pressure to unionize dispensary workers,” the complaint says.

    Rush isn’t the only union boss in trouble this week. In New Jersey, former International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 164 Business Manager Richard Dressel had his convictions for embezzlement reinstated by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. Prosecutors argued that Dressel created a program within the union to direct a no-bid contract to his girlfriend, and the Third Circuit ruled that jurors were within their rights to convict him of embezzlement.

    Categories: Crime & CorruptionUFCW
  6. Progressives Love Labor Unions, Until This One Thing Happens

    UpworthyUnionBusterLiberal websites and progressive outfits—many of which receive some of the $100+ million directed from unions  to the left-wing infrastructure annually—are big promoters of the union agenda. But like unions themselves, when the realities of collective bargaining are brought to their own doors, even the most pro-labor groups can bust unions in ways that make a Midwestern Republican governor blush.

    The latest to join the “unions for thee but not for me” trend appears to be the website Upworthy. A few months ago, we noted that the “viral content” producer (incorporated as “Cloud Tiger Media”) had received $804,000 from the AFL-CIO for “Consulting on Public Education of Labor Movement” in 2013 and 2014, according to Labor Department filings. Now, Gawker reports that the site’s owners are dissuading a union organizing effort at the company:

    No, we didn’t say it wouldn’t be allowed at all — Peter [Koechley] and I told our writers we support their right to form a union, and believe unions are an important force for economic equality, but that doing this now at Upworthy could come at a cost to the company in terms of our ability to raise capital.

    There’s quite a bit to parse there. First of all, there’s a reason that Upworthy bigwigs “didn’t say it wouldn’t be allowed at all”—that would almost certainly be found to be an unfair labor practice under the National Labor Relations Act.

    But what’s more interesting is the concession that unionization “could come at a cost to the company.” Of course, that would happen to fast food franchises if the Fight for 15 protests Upworthy promoted (as in the clip of Upworthy rhetoric from the SEIU “fast food strikes” below) led to unionization or other union-desired outcomes.


    It’s good to see that even left-wing union-funded outfits concede that unionization can be costly—even if only to them.

    We’ve seen this before: In an ultimately futile effort to prevent its staff from unionizing, left-wing media critic and card-check bill cheerleader Media Matters lawyered up with a top employer-side law firm to protect its employees’ secret ballot. It remains to be seen what will happen over at Upworthy, but once again hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor funding has failed to supersede economic reality at a union-funded outfit.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsPolitical Money
  7. What about the 38 Percent?

    cashAs the presidential nomination contests heat up, there has been considerable interest in a brewing labor revolt within its traditional Democratic power structure. Self-declared socialist Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has energized labor unionists in support of his bid for the Democratic nomination, receiving informal “endorsement” votes from state AFL-CIO federations in South Carolina and Vermont. Meanwhile, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already secured the support of the American Federation of Teachers, led by her longtime ally Randi Weingarten.

    But while union bosses and hardcore activists debate whether to back a candidate of the left or a candidate of the far-left, a significant bloc of union members and their families face a lose-lose prospect: No matter which candidate their bosses choose, members’ money will go to elect candidates they don’t support. In national election after national election, polling shows that something like 40 percent of union households vote for Republican candidates. (In 2014’s U.S. House elections, it was 38 percent; in the 2012 Presidential election, it was 40 percent.) But unions throw about 90 percent of their candidate contributions behind Democrats—a clear imbalance.

    For that reason, the recently reintroduced Employee Rights Act (ERA) will give people like Pennsylvania school bus driver David Shirey the right not to fund politicians they disagree with. Now, unions will argue that federal law forbids collecting Political Action Committee (PAC) money except by opt-in, which is true as far as it goes. But beneath the aboveboard, nominally voluntary campaign contributions lies a multimillion-dollar empire of dues-funded political and advocacy groups that lay the foundations for union candidates to win elections and control policymaking. An analysis of unions’ 2013 fiscal year Labor Department filings, these expenses, gifts, and contributions amounted to over $109 million.

    Even worse, some of these union payments are classified as “representational expenses.” That means despite Supreme Court rulings to protect employees required to pay agency fees to unions in forced-unionism states from funding politics they don’t support, employees in those states may be forced to fund liberal organizations like Americans United for Change, Berlin Rosen, and the National Employment Law Project Action Fund—all of which received “representational activities” payments on the SEIU’s latest federal filing while managing minimum wage hike campaigns that often veered into partisan posturing.

    In short, union members and forced-fee payers like Shirey have a valid complaint. The ERA would restore balance by allowing members to withhold the portion of dues that goes to politics—a provision supported by 85 percent of union households in national polling.


    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActPolitical MoneyTeachers Unions
  8. Labor Reform Debate Takes Shape

    KarenCox Kitchen TableThis week, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah); Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia); and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) re-introduced the Employee Rights Act, a package of popular reforms to increase individual rights in the workplace. In a press conference promoting the bill, Rep. Price noted the broad support voters have for ERA’s reforms:

    “Over 80 percent of Republicans, independents, and Democrats agree that workplaces should hold periodic union certification elections, the right to a secret ballot, employee privacy from unions, and criminalizing union threats,” he said. “I think if folks in Washington can put aside political aspirations and agendas, we could make some serious headway on protecting the individual in the workplace.”

    Sen. Alexander noted that the aggressive pro-union actions of the National Labor Relations Board make ERA more needed than ever, saying, “From its decision to move ahead with the ambush election rule to its attempt to undermine state right-to-work laws, recent actions from the NLRB have not only been some of the most partisan we’ve seen, they’ve also been the most damaging to the rights of employees.”

    But executive action against popular reform isn’t the only emerging threat to employee rights. Labor wants to frame its position for the 2016 elections, and so the AFL-CIO is preparing to roll out its own package of labor law changes. Politico reports that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka hopes to roll out a series of bills that would codify NLRB actions (possibly including the “ambush election” rule), give the NLRB more power, and declare union organizing a “civil right.” Card check—mandating union organizing without a private vote—isn’t necessarily off the table.

    Labor policy in the coming years will be defined by this debate between individual rights and union boss power. Union officials like Trumka have six-figure salaries that they’re committed to defending with the full might of labor’s political power, but individual employees continue to suffer from union abuses.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActPolitical Money