Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

  1. Courts Give Randi and Allies Big Gifts

    States are fed up with an education system that leaves American students behind their peers abroad. As a result, they have been taking on union-backed policies of “tenure” that give teachers, almost regardless of ability, effective jobs for life. Unfortunately for students, appellate courts in California and North Carolina have just handed teacher union bosses like Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers substantial benefits by overruling these reforms.

    This week, the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned a legislative reform that abolished tenure for all teachers, holding it could only apply to new hires. The only winners here are old teachers who regained their jobs for life and the teachers unions supporting them; students stuck with time-servers are the big losers.

    In California, an appeals court overturned a decision by a state judge that overturned that state’s teacher tenure laws over the objections of teachers unions. By declaring that California’s teacher-union-demanded job protections—a short (only two years) evaluation period before the effective job-for-life protections of tenure, onerous discipline-and-removal processes reminiscent of the worst “rubber rooms,” and a last-in-first-out layoff policy that doesn’t take effectiveness into account—deprived California students of equal access to an effective public education, Judge Rolf Treu’s ruling in a case titled Vergara v. California had offered hope to millions who worried California’s union-controlled political system was impossibly hostile to school reform.

    The appellate ruling in Randi’s favor elicited a scathing response from the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle, who write:

    It’s a big win for teacher unions and their worship of the sanctity of seniority, but a setback for the rest of the schoolhouse world: parents, taxpayers and — most of all — students who live in the most challenged districts. The plaintiffs, who include nine students and a wealthy Silicon Valley backer, are indicating they’ll continue their fight upward on the appeals ladder.


    The stalled case puts the onus on the state Legislature to overhaul the balky rules that are basically in the hands of union leaders, who provide ample money and troops in every election. Thus, the prospect for a legislative fix is bleak. These long odds were a factor for educational reform groups who hoped the courts would act where the Legislature’s ruling Democrats feared to tread.

    While Randi and her fellow teacher union bosses savor a win over what they call “millionaires and special interests,” students will continue to suffer under the status quo. As more and more evidence piles up that teachers unions’ system of jobs-for-life and no accountability are hurting students, legislatures and judges alike will continue to put pressure on Randi’s status quo. While the teachers unions’ massive political machines might keep the status quo alive for a while, when you’ve lost a coalition of liberals including entertainer Whoopi Goldberg, the editors of The Washington Post, and President Obama’s first education secretary Arne Duncan, the writing is already on the wall.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTNEATeachers Unions
  2. SEIU Looks for Return on its Fast Food Investment

    dispute_jpgEarlier this month, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) released its annual Department of Labor disclosures showing a discouraging trend for the union: While it continued to throw money at its multi-million dollar campaign to organize fast food restaurants, membership isn’t increasing notably.

    The union will continue to throw good money after bad with another series of demonstrations today, and this time the target has a name. The Associated Press reports that the SEIU’s latest protests will directly target McDonald’s, which is conveniently the company currently under attack from the NLRB. The SEIU’s organizing director explains the game to the AP:

    Scott Courtney, national organizing director for the SEIU, said he thinks it’s possible that McDonald’s might consider recognition of a workers organization in the next couple of years, which could prompt Burger King and Wendy’s to do the same with their workers.

    Allow us to translate: The SEIU is ramping up a substantial corporate campaign into which the union has already invested up to $80 million over the past four years, with a stated goal to get franchising companies to concede to unionization of the franchisees’ employees by card check.

    The potential payoffs are substantial: Manhattan Institute researcher Diana Furchtgott-Roth estimated that unionizing half of McDonald’s employees could fetch the SEIU $100 million in dues and initiation fees each year. Fast food joints have notoriously high turnover, and each new fry cook could net a local SEIU between $25-$200 in initiation fees alone, before even assessing one pay period’s normal dues (using 1199/SEIU and SEIU 32’s reported initiation fee rates from their Department of Labor disclosures).

    For now, the campaign enriches campaign consultants like Berlin Rosen that organize the demonstrations. But SEIU has a long-term goal of getting its hands on the paychecks of fast food workers. Fortunately for those employees, the effort doesn’t appear to be working.

    Categories: Anti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsChange To WinEmployee Rights ActEnding Secret BallotsSEIUWorkers Center
  3. Teachers Unions’ Political Money Making Members Miffed

    shutterstock_51565708 (1) (1)We’ve noted that in past elections, roughly 40 percent of union households have tended to vote Republican while 90 percent of union political go to Democrats or left-wing causes. Now, some union Democrats are learning why that system is fundamentally unfair: They and their union bosses don’t like the same candidate either.

    Union leaders like American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten quickly lined up behind the candidacy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with some endorsements (including Weingarten’s) coming before the primary debates even began. Rank-and-file union members had different ideas, as Politico reports:

    [Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders] received more than 9,000 donations and raised more than $413,000 from people who identified themselves as teachers or educators, surpassing the $394,000 raised by Clinton from about 4,500 such donors during the same month.


    The division between leaders and rank-and-file members of teachers unions reflects a campaign in which Clinton has won overwhelming support from leaders of Democratic constituencies but struggled to beat back the Sanders challenge among average voters.

    Unfortunately for those teacher union members who contributed to Sanders, their dues (and optional PAC checkoffs, if selected) are supporting Clinton (the National Education Association also endorsed her). This is a predictable consequence of a system that requires union members to subsidize union political operations rather than making those operations opt-in. The Employee Rights Act (ERA), a piece of legislation currently before Congress, would require unions to obtain affirmative consent before using dues money for political purposes.

    And those operations are extensive. In total, from 2012-2014 unions reported roughly $420 million in contributions and expenditures to politically involved organizations on their Department of Labor disclosures. A substantial proportion of that spending came from member dues and supported key allies of union-boss favorites.

    The Center for Union Facts is exempt from federal income tax under §501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not support or oppose candidates for public office.

    Categories: AFTCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActPolitical MoneyUnion Spending
  4. Union Members Speak Out Against NYC Construction Union

    Today, the Center for Union Facts’ released a new video and a new radio ad featuring members of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 14-14B—a member union of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC)—who are suing the union for racial discrimination. Averil Morrison, Janenne Gonzalez, and Delisa Jones, three of the five non-white union members suing Local 14-14B, are speaking out about how the union disproportionately advantages white construction workers.

    You can hear their stories by watching the video below:

    The results of the alleged actions of Local 14-14B and other New York construction unions can be seen in the statistics. According to an analysis of Census Bureau data, black union construction workers make $5.74 less per hour on average than white construction workers in New York City.

    Morrison and her fellow union members’ case will be heard in court this spring. We hope it will shine a light on how the discrepancies between white and non-white union construction workers have been perpetuated by the construction unions.

    Categories: AFL-CIOBuilding and Construction Trades CouncilUnfair Share
  5. Philadelphia NLRB Regional Director Suspended After Conflict-of-Interest Allegations

    see no speak no hear noThe National Labor Relations Board—the supposed “referee” interpreting and applying labor law—is hardly impartial, given its tradition of overturning precedent in order to pay favors to labor union bosses. But usually, appointees at least pretend to impartiality, resigning their positions with the SEIU, AFL-CIO, or the International Union of Operating Engineers (a local of which was named in a civil RICO suit) before taking on their new government roles.

    The Philadelphia Regional Director of the NLRB, Dennis Walsh (a former member of the NLRB), was even more brazen—he held the chairmanship of a labor-funded advocacy group, the Peggy Browning Fund (PBF), even after his appointment as Regional Director in 2013. In 2015 union fiscal years, labor unions that file LM-2s with the Department of Labor contributed $217,700 to PBF. A business agent of one of those unions, Steamfitters Local 638, received an award personally presented by Walsh from the PBF, to give an idea of how close the unions and PBF are.

    Walsh’s affiliation with PBF drew the attention of Philadelphia labor lawyer Wally Zimolong, who sent a letter protesting Walsh’s double-jobbing to members of Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation. Since Walsh hobnobbed with and may have solicited donations to the Fund from assorted Philadelphia area union bosses—locals of the Service Employees International Union, United Steelworkers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the United Association (of Plumbers and Pipefitters) were sponsors of one PBF event in March 2014—Walsh could not reasonably be expected to be impartial when those unions were being investigated or were requesting investigations by the Philadelphia Region. Zimolong alleged that Walsh did not even inform the NLRB’s ethics officers of his relationship with the Fund and the unions that work with it.

    That would be suspicious in itself, but the NLRB ultimately disciplined Walsh, who has been dropped from the Peggy Browning Fund board. (Walsh’s replacement as board chair is the national general counsel of the United Steelworkers.) The Philadelphia Business Journal reports that from December 13 through mid-January, Walsh served a 30-day unpaid suspension.

    While confidentiality rules prohibit the NLRB from confirming why he was punished, Walsh’s more-than-apparent conflict of interest created by his Peggy Browning Fund chairmanship surely didn’t help. But if he was disciplined for partiality, Walsh’s real sin wasn’t union partisanship—it was being too obvious about it and getting caught. After all, he’s now back on the job, “investigating” the unions that once sent their bosses to get awards from him, and other NLRB members and directors are just as union-partial as Walsh is.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsNLRB
  6. SEIU Bigwigs Ask Where the New Members Are

    Since 2012, the Service Employees International Union has been following an approach to stalling the decline of union membership in the private sector that centers on “fast food strikes” organized by public relations firms, worker centers, and proto-labor-unions called “worker organizing committees.” The basic idea? Phase one, make noise; Phase three, new union members.

    The problem is phase two. Currently, SEIU leadership (including union president Mary Kay Henry) is satisfied to collect legislative wins, but the sheer rate of spending combined with real-world declines in union membership are leading some of Henry’s colleagues to start questioning how long the current plan can last. Bloomberg News quotes Henry’s predecessor, Andy Stern, raising questions about the sustainability of SEIU’s strategy:

    Just as AARP relies on the money it makes in royalties from licensing insurance and other products, SEIU needs to find a funding stream to pay for its social-justice work, says Andy Stern, who preceded Henry as SEIU president. The union can’t just keep transferring revenue it makes from bargaining contracts to pay for its social justice work, Stern says, “because collective bargaining is shrinking.”

    Indeed, since the “Fight for 15” started in 2012, an analysis of SEIU’s annual LM-2 reports with the Department of Labor shows SEIU has spent tens of millions of dollars—potentially as high as $80 million—with no substantial net gain in membership to show for it. Indeed, from 2014 to 2015, the union actually lost 5,800 members.

    SEIU Fast Food Spending 2015

    While the SEIU continues to bet that the union-packed National Labor Relations Board will open the door to an intimidation-laced card-check unionization of fast food employees, Henry allies are arguing that growing membership, collecting dues, and conducting collective bargaining is less important. But throwing large amounts of money for no new members and losing patience doomed the United Food and Commercial Workers’ OUR Walmart campaign, which split in two last year with considerable acrimony.

    While SEIU’s effort has managed to ride off legislative and lobbying wins so far, it remains to be seen how long the union can continue to burn member dues without return on investment.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsChange To WinNLRBSEIUWorkers Center
  7. Supreme Court Hands Employee Rights a Big Loss

    shutterstock_194916617In January, we reported on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a Supreme Court case which took public-sector labor law under serious consideration for the first time in decades. Fast forward a few months and a verdict has been reached: The Court split along ideological lines and came to a 4-4 decision, upholding the status quo and sparing union bosses a serious headache.

    Had the decision gone in favor of California schoolteacher and lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs—as was expected prior to Justice Antonin Scalia’s death—it could have essentially made “right-to-work” the law of the land for state and local employees, an expansion of employees’ right to control whether they fund union representation with which they disagree or not. Friedrichs considered striking down state laws which require non-members of public-sector unions to pay forced dues (so-called “agency fees”) or lose their jobs—even if they aren’t officially union members. As it stands now in non-right-to-work states, even nonunion employees must pay agency fees if their workplace is under union control.

    Given the nature of public employment—the union is negotiating with a government it can help elect or throw out of office—that means all employees essentially pay for the union’s political agenda. Friedrichs and nine other plaintiffs argued this violated their right to freedom of speech—or, in this case, compelled speech.

    “We’re not asking to end those unions, we’re not asking for them to stop being in business, we’re just asking for the freedom not to pay them. We’re just asking for the freedom to not have to be represented by them,” Friedrichs told The Daily Caller several weeks ago. “Members are forced and we don’t have a choice and even though the union says it speaks on behalf of all teachers in reality the union speaks on behalf of itself.”

    Alas, the Court has ruled and the plaintiffs’ petitions went unanswered. It confirms the best shot at labor reform lies on Capitol Hill. The Employee Rights Act (ERA), national legislation reintroduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), would update American labor law and guarantee secret ballot union elections, employee privacy during union organizing campaigns, and employees’ control of dues money spent for non-work political causes—among other reforms.

    Employees need more say in representing their own interests. And it’s now up to Congress to provide it.

    Categories: Right-to-WorkTeachers Unions
  8. New “Persuader” Reporting Gives Unions Another Election Advantage

    fist1This week, the Department of Labor completed a labor favor that has been years in the making. The Department finalized and issued its “persuader rule,” a policy that requires employers to disclose indirect assistance they received in crafting a campaign to recommend that employees not unionize. (Prior precedent had required employers to report only consultants who had direct contact with employees.)

    We’ve covered some of the problems with this policy before—the American Bar Association filed a comment in opposition to a draft of the proposal because it infringed on the attorney-client privilege, to choose just one. But there is at least as great a danger to employee rights as to employer (and attorney) rights from the rule.

    During a union organizing campaign, professional union organizers and off-the-books “salts” (union sympathizers or professional organizers who get jobs with a company in order to start an organizing campaign) have essentially free rein to promise and dangle whatever wage and benefit increases they believe will get them votes. Because by law union promises aren’t binding, few union activities short of outright violence or threats of violence can actually get an election invalidated. Alternatively, if a company promises anything of value to sway votes, it is considered illegal.

    Employers must walk a tightrope to ensure they don’t fall afoul of National Labor Relations Board rules governing what employers can and can’t say during an election. This is at least part of the reason why unionization consultants’ services are sought after: The consultants and labor lawyers generally have a reasonable idea as to what messages the NLRB will allow.

    The new rule will require much of that kind of advice to be disclosed to the government, possibly leading some employers to do things that will hurt employee interests, including not engaging in election messaging at all or allowing false union promises to circulate without rebuttal. In either case, there’s plenty of opportunity for employees to end up suffering buyer’s remorse.  Rather than expanding employee education, the likeliest outcome of the new rule is a substantial infringement of an employee’s right to be informed.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsDOLEmployee Rights Act