Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

  1. Teamsters Employee Allegedly Embezzles with a Side of Hypocrisy

    An interesting item crossed the wires: Politico reports that the Teamsters Union’s court-appointed Independent Review Board (IRB) filed a subpoena for some Uber transportation account records.

    Court records show that the IRB believes that a Teamsters headquarters employee (who makes six figures in total compensation, according to DOL filings) was using the union’s credit card for personal expenses, including Uber rides across D.C. A court filing asserts that the suspected employee still has access to the union credit card.

    This is more than just the typical union petty corruption story: This story also contains a nice helping of hypocrisy, given that at least some of the alleged embezzled money was spent on rides with ridesharing company Uber.

    The Teamsters, which has organized taxi drivers in Washington, D.C. into an alt-labor organizing force (taxicab drivers are usually independent contractors who cannot unionize under the National Labor Relations Act), has waged a campaign to cripple Uber in the nation’s capital, suing to block rules governing Uber and similar “ridesharing” services. If those rules are stopped, the Teamster official wouldn’t be the only Washingtonian losing Uber privileges: The service would shut down, ensuring the Teamster-represented taxicabs got their monopoly back.

    Of course, the public doesn’t want that—and apparently, at least one Uber-using Teamsters official doesn’t either. This latest example of apparent union employee self-dealing just highlights how unpopular this union’s particular political agenda happens to be.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsCrime & CorruptionPolitical MoneyTeamsters
  2. Union Statistics Show a Tale of Two States

    eraThis post has been updated since its initial publication with 2015 data from Unionstats.com.

    Yesterday, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual count of how many American employees are union members and what percentage of the workforce consists of union members. Overall union density remained constant at 11.1% of wage and salary employees, but private-sector union density had a dead-cat bounce from 2014’s low of 6.6 percent up to 6.7 percent.

    Given the aggressiveness of the Obama Administration, its NLRB, and its allies, the slight uptick in private-sector unionism should concern those interested in employee rights. It also provides another reason for Congress to take up the Employee Rights Act, a widely supported piece of labor reform legislation.

    Additionally, the state-by-state data suggest that right-to-work laws may not have as big an impact on union membership as other labor reforms. Michigan, which passed a right-to-work law that took effect in 2013, showed an increase in its unionization rate from 2014 to 2015. On the other hand, Wisconsin, which made substantial reforms to its public employee unions in 2011-12, has seen steep declines in its public-employee union rates. (See chart below.)

     

    WI Public union stats thru 2015

    What’s the difference? Two of the Wisconsin reforms require re-certification of existing unions and set the re-certification vote bar at a true majority of the full bargaining unit. The effect is clear: Given the opportunity in a secret ballot vote to leave their unions, tens of thousands of Wisconsin public employees have done so. (These reforms are similar to provisions of the Employee Rights Act.) In 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found continued declines in the overall state unionization rate and UnionStats found declines in both sectors, suggesting that the right-to-work law passed in 2015 combined with these reforms are a potent cocktail to combat union abuses of employee rights.

    The lesson of Wisconsin’s and Michigan’s different paths is clear: Employee rights reform needs to expand beyond right-to-work. That will require a federal effort—it will require the Employee Rights Act.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActRight-to-Work
  3. Big Labor Spends Big Money—On Big Pleasure?

    crime money steal embezzle 2Why spend money on collective bargaining when you can buy movie tickets and luxury handbags?

    For Big Labor, it’s a valid question. Union bosses spent millions of dollars in member dues on activities completely unrelated to collective bargaining in 2015. The National Review reports:

    On 2015 filings, six private-sector unions together reported that they had spent nearly $347,000 at Six Flags amusement parks. The expenditures covered member picnics, special events, and union administration, the unions reported.

     

    On its 2015 tax filing alone, the National Education Association Headquarters spent more than $347,000 at Disney’s Buena Vista Palace and the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort for membership recruiting and organizing, member and staff education, and policy development.

     

    [S]ince 2010, reports from dozens of unions show expenditures of more than $45 million spent at casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and elsewhere.

    A closer look is even more startling. One Pennsylvania union “dropped nearly $42,000 at the designer retailer Burberry” and “$20,000 on [Pittsburgh] Penguins tickets.” It even spent $5,600 on a single steak dinner.

    And the New York Post recently found that teachers unions are especially complicit. The United Federation of Teachers (UFT), New York’s largest teachers union, single-handedly “shelled out $2.5 million for lodging and conventions,” including $1 million for its spring bash at the New York Hilton in Midtown. It also allotted $2.4 million for food and catering, $1.77 million of which went to Lackmann Culinary Services—a catering service guaranteeing “culinary excellence” for private clubs, corporate entities, and government agencies among others.

    To make matters worse, Big Labor sent nearly $420 million to left-wing political advocacy groups from 2012 to 2014, many of which are closely aligned with the Democratic Party. (Meanwhile, roughly 40 percent of union households vote Republican.)

    Yet this extravagant budget—entertainment and political—is funded by rank-and-file union members. And in many states, member dues contributions are mandatory, whereby funding union activities is a condition of employment.

    Knowing their appetite for big spending, union bosses won’t be complaining about that any time soon.

    Categories: Political MoneyTeachers UnionsUnion Spending
  4. Detroit Teachers Union Loses Control, Schools Close in Chaos

    detroitWhen last we checked in on American Federation of Teachers Local 231, the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT), Randi Weingarten at AFT national headquarters had attempted to restore order after the chaotic reign of former union president Steve Conn by placing the DFT in trusteeship. Instead of order, that move has brought chaos, with Conn’s radical factions staging so-called “sickouts” that have closed so many Detroit schools that officials estimate that 31,000 of the city’s 46,000 public school students have missed school time.

    What the DFT members are doing is probably illegal—Michigan state law forbids striking by public employees, and the school district has filed for injunctions against those involved in the wildcat strikes. This isn’t the first time that Michigan public employee unions have become aggressively militant: Taking advantage of a 1965 law that removed certain penalties for public sector workers who went on strike, Detroit unions went on a strike spree with four major strikes between 1971 and 1986.

    The result of these actions were vast wage and benefit concessions to the DFT and other public employee unions that helped drive Detroit into bankruptcy. In 1992, concessions given after a DFT strike forced the Detroit school system to make $20 million in cuts to offset the new compensation hikes—helping set the stage for the current disputes over school conditions.

    The wildcat strikes illustrate a key myth of public-employee unionism. According to union supporters, public employees should be allowed to form and to hold privileges that oppose employee rights in order to preserve “labor peace” and ensure the delivery of government services. Supposedly, organized representation would ensure that wildcat strikes don’t occur.

    However, that hasn’t happened in Detroit schools (and given the history of walkouts, unionists cannot just blame the state’s recent right-to-work law). Public unionism suffers from a fundamental contradiction: Unlike private-sector employees, public sector union members have the power to “elect” their management, giving them disproportionate power to get favorable working arrangements. In Detroit, the result has been unstable city finances that culminated in the city’s 2013 bankruptcy.

    Categories: AFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers Unions
  5. SEIU Boss (Finally) Acknowledges Silenced Conservative Members

    shutterstock_299196185As we noted last week, Big Labor is already preparing for a possible big blow in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a Supreme Court case that could allow millions of public-sector employees to opt out of mandatory union dues. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is no exception.

    Appearing on David Axelrod’s radio show last week, Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU, acknowledged that Big Labor could lose as many as 2 million members because of the lawsuit. In her own words, “[A]nother chunk of the movement will be gone.”

    She also hinted at the reason why. When asked about the future of unions, Henry admitted that there’s a growing disconnect between union leadership and rank-and-file membership, “64 percent of our public members identify as conservative and are much more interested in the Republican debate than the Democratic debate at this moment.”

    (The SEIU has since claimed that the number is closer to 36 percent, still a substantial minority. According to 2014 exit polls, roughly 40 percent of union households vote Republican.)

    Yet the SEIU endorsed Hillary Clinton for president a full year before the 2016 election. That decision was typical of the union’s monolithic Democratic partisanship: In the 2014 election cycle, SEIU’s PACs universally supported Democrats, while a full 99.9 percent of SEIU and its affiliates’ $32 million in dues-funded advocacy in the 2014 fiscal year went to left-wing causes.

    Big Labor as a whole was responsible for $140 million in political advocacy spending in 2014, 99 percent of which went to Democrat-aligned interest groups. Union Super PAC spending tells the same story: Roughly $60 million, or 89 percent, was sent to Democratic political candidates during the 2014 election cycle. In 2012, it was almost $66 million or 90 percent of the total budget.

    It points to a troubling trend: Big Labor union bosses overwhelmingly pull for Democrats and left-wing causes, even though their membership is far more multifaceted.

    Henry’s recent statements highlight the need for the Employee Rights Act (ERA). This national legislation would require labor organizers to obtain affirmative consent from members before spending their dues money on politics. In doing so, it would allow all union employees to decide where their salary and member dues are going.

    Categories: Political MoneySEIUUnion Spending
  6. Teacher Union Case Carries Employee Rights to Supreme Court

    moneyMonday of next week (January 11) marks a major milestone in the effort to bring employee rights in the workplace to teachers and other public-sector employees. The Supreme Court will hear a case titled Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association et al., brought by California teacher Rebecca Friedrichs (and other teachers) against her National Education Association-affiliated teachers union.

    The NEA and other public-employee unions (including Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers) are on high alert: The Court is considering striking down state laws that require non-members of public-sector unions to pay forced dues assessments (called “agency fees”) or lose their jobs. In effect, a ruling in favor of Friedrichs and her fellow teachers could make all states “right to work” for state and local employees, a substantial expansion of employee rights. The NEA is reportedly budgeting in the expectation that it may lose the case.

    Court-watchers regard the crucial vote in the case to be that of typically conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. If that assessment is accurate, it may not end well for the unions: Scalia was regarded as a potential enabler of the SEIU “dues skim” overturned by Harris v. Quinn, the case that opened the door for the Friedrichs challenge. He sided against the unions in that case, and the forced dues portion of the skim was overturned.

    It’s important to note, however, what a favorable ruling wouldn’t do. Contrary to union cries that a ruling in favor of Friedrichs and the other teachers would “threaten the fundamental promise of America,” public-employee unions would still be able to collectively bargain in states that have public-employee collective bargaining and still collect dues from members. Private sector employees would be completely unaffected by a decision either way.

    But importantly, ruling against the unions would give public employees a meaningful choice on whether to support union activities—activities that the nature of public employment assures is political. The fundamental contradiction at the heart of public-sector unionism—that employees can “elect” management and bargain over what are true public policies—makes forcing non-member employees to pay dues equivalent to forcing them to support unions’ political agendas.

    The Court has consistently held that it’s a violation of the First Amendment to force employees to fund political agendas with the only other option being loss of a job. (The right created by the court is hard to exercise and doesn’t go far enough, but that’s a separate issue.) There’s hope that for public employees at least a significant expansion of rights could be just around the corner.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsRight-to-WorkSEIUTeachers Unions
  7. Union-Backed Nonprofit Breaks Colorado Law

    Teachers unions are ringing in the New Year with a lot of politics—and a little lawbreaking on the side.

    They’re doing it by funding a Colorado-based nonprofit group called Jeffco United, which claims to support education reform on behalf of school-age children. Jeffco United has received more than $265,000 in total from national and local teachers unions since its inception in May. The Denver Post reports:

    The organization, a social welfare nonprofit with tax-exempt status, was established in May and received its first donation — $25,000 — from the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. In total, the CEA gave $113,500 to the group, records show.

     

    The national union was even more generous. The National Education Association gave $150,000 to Jeffco United in late August.

    Now, it’s common for Big Labor to fund various advocacy nonprofits. (In 2014, unions spent over $140 million on these groups.) But Jeffco United is no ordinary nonprofit. The group used union funds to lead a recall effort against three conservative school board members in Colorado’s Jefferson County. And while the door-knocking and sign-waving drives were successful—all three board members were eventually ousted—they prompted an investigation into Jeffco United’s ground campaign.

    In December, a Colorado judge found Jeffco guilty of breaking campaign finance law, since the group engaged in overt political activity in violation of its nonpartisan status as a tax-exempt nonprofit. The judge ruled that Jeffco’s “major purpose” was to support the recall of conservative officials, ordering it to either pay a fine and register as a political committee, or disband altogether.

    The Jeffco fiasco shines a light on Big Labor’s broader agenda: Quietly support left-wing causes through political advocacy spending, primarily funded by member dues. And it proves why we need the Employee Rights Act (ERA), which would allow union members to choose where their hard-earned dues money goes via a paycheck protection provision. The ERA would require labor organizers to obtain affirmative consent from the rank-and-file before spending any dues money on politics.

    Working Americans shouldn’t foot the bill for union politicking—especially when it breaks the law.

    Categories: Employee Rights ActNEAPolitical MoneyTeachers UnionsUnion Spending
  8. Sexual Harassment Scandal Shutters Labor PR Firm

    shockedFitzgibbon Media is a major D.C.-area public relations shop that specializes in working political and advocacy campaigns for national labor unions and other left-wing outfits (many funded by unions as well). Or rather, it was a major D.C.-area public relations shop—it closed its doors abruptly last week.

    The reason? The company’s president was accused by numerous female employees of sexual harassment (and possibly sexual assault). The Huffington Post reports:

    Trevor FitzGibbon and his team worked with some of the biggest progressive organizations, including NARAL, MoveOn, the Center for American Progress and the AFL-CIO, as well as Wikileaks, Chelsea Manning and The Intercept. The company sponsored an event with The Huffington Post earlier this year. Multiple female employees came forward with accusations of sexual harassment and assault against FitzGibbon, according to employees who spoke with The Huffington Post.

    It’s bad news for the firm’s affected employees, and also its left-labor client roster. The faction of OUR Walmart that split off from the UFCW campaign had been using Fitzgibbon for media relations during its disastrous roll-out earlier this year. Also looking for new help after one of the Left’s top media dogs was accused of serial sexual harassment? The Communications Workers of America, which paid Fitzgibbon $230,000 in its 2015 fiscal year, and Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers, which will also have to take its $144,000 in fiscal 2015 business elsewhere.

    We’re certain that Berlin Rosen stands ready and waiting to pick up with these clients where Fitzgibbon’s team left off.

    Categories: Crime & CorruptionUFCWUnion Spending