Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

  1. Unions Paid This Website $504,000. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.

    big spendingIn late 2013 and early 2014, the Internet suffered a plague of psychologically tested headlines (similar to the one in this post title), unleashed on an unsuspecting public by a “viral content” site, Upworthy. And while changes to the Facebook algorithm have reduced the site’s ability to jackhammer vapid memes into people’s heads, the site is still around.

    Earlier this week, with the SEIU and its front groups holding orchestrated protests as part of a corporate campaign to unionize fast food restaurants, Upworthy tweeted (or re-tweeted) dozens of bits of union propaganda and put several articles on its homepage touting the so-called strikes. While it isn’t surprising for a liberal website to push a left-wing message, Upworthy’s touting the campaign—like the campaign itself—conceals many moving parts.

    First, take a close look at Upworthy’s “About” page. The site’s copyright is held by the company “Cloud Tiger Media.” And who, per chance, is a major client of Cloud Tiger Media? One American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, better known as the AFL-CIO.

    In 2014, Labor Department filings showed that the AFL-CIO paid Cloud Tiger $504,000 for “Consulting on Public Education of Labor Movement.” That followed up $300,000 from 2013, for a grand total of $804,000. In 2013, the SEIU chipped in $14,500 to the firm. Now, we can’t know whether Big Labor’s “consulting” payments drove the positive spin from Upworthy, but it sure is interesting how closely tied labor is to left-wing media outlets.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAnti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsUnion SpendingWorkers Center
  2. SEIU’s Astroturf Industry Grows

    fistsThis week, the Service Employees International Union and its “worker center” front groups, led by political consultancy Berlin Rosen, will stage various media stunts claiming to be “strikes” against fast food restaurants. If we sound like a broken record, it’s because the SEIU, the worker centers, and Berlin Rosen have  pulled stunts like this roughly eight times before this one.

    The union’s playbook is highly organized, and directed from the top down by Mary Kay Henry and her colleagues at SEIU headquarters from where the SEIU has invested tens of millions since 2012 into the campaign. And while SEIU’s only actual wins to date seem to be in the area of minimum wage increases in left-wing areas like Seattle and the Bay Area, the tax returns of the “Worker Organizing Committees”  show the real goal: “bargaining collectively with their employers.”

    While SEIU does stand to gain from minimum wage increases, the obscene amounts of money that the SEIU has spent on the campaign indicates that they will only be able to see a “profit” on the investment if they harvest millions in union dues at the end. Department of Labor filings show that SEIU poured roughly $11 million into these committees and $4 million into associated groups in 2013; that has risen to over $17 million to the committees alone with millions more flowing to political consultants and attorneys involved in the orchestrated campaign of demonstrations and lawsuits.

    You can see the year-on-year changes in the chart below: Of the nine “worker organizing committees,” eight saw increases in funding from SEIU national headquarters.

    Workers Committee Funds 2014 Funds 2013 Increase
    Fast Food (NYC) $3,818,871 $1,862,370 $1,956,501
    Chicago $2,898,164 $1,794,932 $1,103,232
    Michigan $2,045,885 $1,478,950 $566,935
    Working Washington (Seattle) $2,648,206 $2,581,784 $66,422
    Mid-South/St Louis $1,902,393 $1,458,592 $443,801
    Southern/Carolina $1,498,271 $300,893 $1,197,378
    Milwaukee $842,432 $1,327,500 (-$485,068)
    East Bay $1,028,233 $306,303 $721,930
    Los Angeles $952,965 $400,000 $552,965
    TOTAL $17,635,420 $11,511,324 $6,124,096
    Categories: Anti-Corporate CampaignsChange To WinSEIUUnion SpendingWorkers Center
  3. Paycheck Protection for California Teachers?

    school busCalifornia courtrooms—site of a major victory for school reformers against teachers unions’ defense of tenure—could soon be home to a big debate over employee rights.

    An education reform group (along with four public schoolteachers) has sued the state’s two teachers unions, affiliated with the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers (AFT). EdSource reports on the case, known as Bain v. California Teachers Association:

    In the lawsuit, the teachers focus only on the 35 to 40 percent of their dues payments that are used for political purposes, including donations to candidates and lobbying for legislation in Sacramento.
    Although paying this portion is optional, the teachers charge that the unions punish those who choose not to pay it by kicking them out of the union and denying them additional economic benefits, such as better disability and life insurance policies. The unions provide those benefits only to members. This coercion, the teachers argue, violates their constitutional right to free speech.

    Teachers, like all unionized public employees, have what are called “Hudson rights” to object to paying for union political activity even if they live in a non-right-to-work state like California. (These rights compare to private-sector “Beck rights” and were also codified by a Supreme Court case.)

    But unions make exercising Hudson rights extremely difficult by controlling access to certain benefits and privileging members in negotiations with the state pension authority, the lawsuit claims. Dissenting “Hudson objectors” also have to pay so-called “agency fees” or be fired (at least in California and other non-right-to-work states).

    The teachers allege that this is unfair, and they want to be able to participate in the union process without funding its political agendas. It’s a reasonable request that has wide support nationally. Polling shows that a similar private-sector provision in the Employee Rights Act has 84 percent public support, including 85 percent  support among union households.

    But don’t count on teachers unions allowing teachers these freedoms without a fight. Randi Weingarten of the AFT responded to the suit by taking potshots at the education reform group that helped file the claims.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActNEATeachers Unions
  4. Union Settles Multi-Million-Dollar Civil Rights Suit

    construction workerUnion bosses talk a big game about supporting civil rights, but their practices don’t always match their civil rights rhetoric.

    Case in point: Local 28 of the Sheet Metal Workers union in New York agreed to a settlement with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that will cost the union up to $12.7 million, for its efforts to unfairly privilege white members over Hispanic and African-American members in job placement services.

    The lawsuit has been around for a while: The EEOC first filed the complaint in 1971, and members whose rights were allegedly violated in years preceding 1991 had already been compensated under prior settlement agreements.

    This week, the government parties announced that members affected between 1991 and 2006 would be compensated and that supervisory measures would be imposed on Local 28. A hearing will be held for a judge to review the final agreement in July.

    The Local 28 case is just an extreme example of unions putting their own perceived interests above the rights of their members. But union abuses—many legally permitted—are a major issue demanding significant reform. Taking action against already-illegal rights violations can only be the beginning of a conversation about changing the employee rights framework to empower individual employees in the workplace.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights Act
  5. Radical Labor Dragging Democrats Left of Obama

    democrat napkinBig Labor is a key partisan constituent in the Democratic Party coalition, as evidenced by the fact that roughly 90 percent of union PAC contributions to candidates and an even greater percentage of union contributions to non-party ideological organizations go to Democrats and the Left.

    However, that doesn’t mean that Democrats always give unions what they want. The latest schism? The Obama Administration is pushing a series of trade promotion bills that have significant bi-partisan support in the Republican-controlled Congress, and labor unions aren’t taking kindly to this outbreak of economic sense. The Wall Street Journal reports:

    Dozens of major labor unions plan to freeze campaign contributions to members of Congress to pressure them to oppose fast-track trade legislation sought by President Barack Obama, according to labor officials. […]


    Unions have opposed the TPP through demonstrations, letters to lawmakers and political ads, but withholding political contributions is a more forceful way of flexing their muscle. In the 2014 midterm elections, unions—the lifeblood of the Democratic Party—contributed about $65 million from their political-action committee, or PACs, to candidates, nearly all Democrats.

    So the AFL-CIO and other labor unions now find themselves stuck in the classic bind of the political “cheap date”—since they aren’t going to start funding the other party, they can be safely sidelined. It’s the same reason why unions’ concerns that their healthcare plans were unfairly treated under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) have fallen on deaf ears.

    Now, unions have begun trying a different approach: If the Democratic Party won’t carry your water, elect a new Democratic Party. We see this in efforts like Ms. Zephyr Teachout’s union-backed candidacy for Governor of New York in 2014 or the SEIU’s attempt to oust Blanche Lincoln in a 2010 U.S. Senate election over her skepticism towards the card-check bill. Currently sitting on Big Labor’s hot-seat is Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a fairly orthodox liberal who nevertheless represents a trade-dependent state and has been trying to broker a compromise between a hesitant center-left and the more free-trade Republicans and Obama Administration. That may not be enough for a union movement that demands total fealty.

    But the labor-Administration divide on trade shows just how far from the political mainstream labor’s agenda is. Like the divide between the teachers unions and many liberals (including Education Secretary Arne Duncan) on the need for tenure reform, the divide between unions and the Administration on free trade shows that Big Labor will do anything to drag the Democratic Party and national policy to the left.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsPolitical MoneyUnion Spending
  6. Illinois Taxpayers Fund Teacher Union Lobbyist Pension

    moneyWhat if one day of teaching could earn you a five-figure-per-year taxpayer-funded pension? One retired Illinois Federation of Teachers lobbyist is trying to turn this pipedream into reality.

    Retired lobbyist David Piccioli taught as a substitute for one day, which under Illinois’s extremely generous union-backed state pension rules entitles him to $31,485 per year from the state Teachers Retirement System, calculated based on his pay as a lobbyist.

    That isn’t enough for Piccioli: He’s now suing, claiming that he’s entitled to roughly double the $31,000 figure because a state law closing the loophole he’s exploiting was passed after he began taking his taxpayer-funded pension.

    The scary thought? He might actually win, because a union-backed challenge to a recently-passed public pension reform law has gone all the way to the state Supreme Court on the grounds that the state constitution may prohibit any modification to pension benefits.

    It’s another demonstration of why public-sector unionism—of which teacher unionism is but the largest part—is so troublesome to states. Private-sector unions can cause problems for employee rights, but they face one ultimate constraint: If their demands cause the plant to go bust, the union goes bust too. Just ask the unions that represented Eastern Airlines and Hostess Brands, both of which liquidated in large part due to unsustainable union demands.

    Public-sector unions don’t face this constraint, since they can essentially elect management. With the union and union-elected management at the table, taxpayers become the mark, footing the bill for whatever gravy train the union and its political lapdogs come up with—like five-figure unalterable pensions for union lobbyists.

    Illinois is just the canary in the proverbial coal mine when it comes to unserviceable collectively bargained public-sector pensions. New Jersey may be next, but unions are fighting any changes to state pensions just as hard as they are in Illinois. Expect public sector unions to continue to play their political games and leave taxpayers holding the bag until taxpayers fight back against being the “mark.”

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers UnionsUnion Spending
  7. Don’t Fear Recertification

    hands shakingWhile unions who lose an organizing election can come back year after year until they win once and (effectively) forever.   The Employee Rights Act (ERA) would correct the structural imbalances in the organization process by requiring automatic recertification votes once half or more of the original certification voters had left the bargaining unit.

    This certification-related provisions have drawn some flak from an unlikely source: Some elements within big business, who fear disruptions to “business as usual.” But as our executive director notes in The Hill, recertification and decertification of unions haven’t led to chaos where they already exist. Roughly 190 bargaining units are decertified annually under the existing union-friendly procedure, but there is little evidence of any effect “other than a newfound workplace freedom for those who wanted it.”

    But the imbalances in the current process have real effects. Gaining the opportunity for a new election to get rid of a union is much easier said than done. Unions regularly rely on intimidation to ensure the dues flow keeps coming.

    Those in business and labor who oppose ERA out of fear are standing against large majorities of the public and union households, according to national polling. Recertification receives support from 84 percent of the public, and new rules to protect employees from union coercion when decertifying their unions gets 80 percent support.

    It’s time to empower employees and fix the problems in how labor unions are organized. The ERA would finally bring employee rights into the 21st Century, and Congress should act upon it as soon as it is reintroduced.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsEmployee Rights Act
  8. Do You Feel as Lucky as a Union Boss?

    Yesterday, our project challenged teachers and New York Post readers to test how their salary stacks up to that of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. Noting that on St. Patrick’s Day (and every other day) Weingarten is “Seeing Green” from her $557,000-plus salary and expenses package, we’re showing the following ad:AFT_NY_POST_StPatty_FINAL_OL

    You can also see how your salary stacks up by using our calculator. You’ll learn:

    • Where your pay ranks among the AFT’s headquarters employees, 185 of whom make six figures;
    • What your salary equates to as a percentage of Randi’s total half-million-plus haul; and
    • How many multiples of your salary the AFT spends on lobbying and politics.

    So head on over to and take the challenge. Then ask Randi why—despite making roughly 10 times what the Department of Education reports the average public schoolteacher makes—she opposes reforms that would give the best teachers more money.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers Unions