Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. With Momentum and Personal Stories, Hatch and Price Reintroduce Employee Rights Act

    Karen never got a vote

    Today, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia) are re-introducing the Employee Rights Act, a reform proposal that will bring America’s Depression-era labor laws in line with a 21st Century workplace. In support of that effort, we’re highlighting the stories of six employees who were victims of union abuses and now support the reforms in the bill. We’ve made a video introducing them and the principles behind the bill, which you can view below.

    Karen Cox came to work one day and found her cold-storage workplace unionized without a vote. David Shirey, a school bus driver from Pennsylvania, is sick of his union dues funding union bosses’ political cronies. Lee Carey, a Los Angeles Times press operator, believes he should be able to hold his union accountable for its campaign promises by automatic  re-certification elections. You can hear them and three other victims of union abuses tell their stories at

    All told, the Act would make major reforms to federal labor law. Each major reform is supported by substantial majorities approaching and frequently exceeding 80 percent support including  union households. The reforms include:

    • Secret Ballot Elections — ERA guarantees that a majority of all employees have a right to a secret paper ballot election. Prevents unions pressuring an employer to deny a secret ballot election;
    • Political Protection — ERA requires unions to receive opt-in permission from each member to use his or her union dues for support of politics or interest groups;
    • Union Recertification Elections — ERA mandates that all unionized workplaces  hold a secret ballot referendum after half of the employees  have moved on since the last certification of union states;
    • Employee Privacy Protection — ERA gives employees the right to opt out of having their personal information shared with a union during an organizing campaign;
    • Decertification Coercion Prevention — ERA strengthens the National Labor Relations Act to prohibit unions from intimidating or coercing employees from exercising their rights, including their right to decertify the union.
    • Secret Ballot Strike Vote — ERA ensures that a majority of all employees in the bargaining unit have the right to a secret ballot vote before union leaders can declare a strike.
    • Criminalizes Union Threats — ERA creates a new federal right that forbids unions from using violence, or threats in pursuit of union objectives.

    We expect union bosses to raise hell with President Obama and Democratic congressmen if  they support these common sense labor reforms.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActPolitical Money
  7. Nineteen Years for Corrupt Ironworkers Union Boss

    laborpains 9 10 altJoseph Dougherty, the business agent and financial secretary of Ironworkers Union Local 401, AFL-CIO, was convicted in January of numerous racketeering and violence-related offenses related to his union’s “goon squads,” which union bosses called the THUGs (apparently with no sense of irony). This week, he learned his fate. Federal Judge Michael Baylson sentenced Dougherty to nineteen years and two months in federal prison. (Dougherty already lost his $190,000-plus salary.)

    In a way, Dougherty was unlucky: If his union had engaged in different forms of threats and violence, the Feds wouldn’t have been able to touch him. Under a Supreme Court case called U.S. v. Enmons, unions are exempt from prosecution under the Hobbs Act for certain violent acts. (There have been calls to close this loophole, including the Employee Rights Act.)

    More interesting than Dougherty’s nearly two-decade sentence is the reaction of his (erstwhile) fellow Philadelphia labor bigwigs. Supporters of Dougherty protested outside the courtroom where he was sentenced, demanding, “Free Joe Doc” and chanting, “It ain’t over yet, Doc!” And while the local labor council and building trades council heads may have avoided that tawdry spectacle, they were extremely sparing in their criticism of Dougherty’s crimes. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

    Dougherty, former chief of Ironworkers Local 401, is a longtime friend of [Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO President Pat] Eiding’s, and Eiding says he isn’t convinced Dougherty is anywhere close to being a racketeer, despite a federal jury’s verdict to the contrary. […] “Joe’s a good friend,” said Eiding, 74.

    Eiding may have spared Dougherty rhetorical condemnation for a series of offenses related to what the Inquirer called a “years-long campaign of sabotage, arson, and intimidation to keep members of his Ironworkers Local 401 employed,” but others in Philadelphia’s labor community rushed to defend the THUG leader. James Moran, who led a labor-funded nonprofit, engaged in a bit of “just asking questions” conspiracy-mongering as he planned the pro-Dougherty rally:

    “What better way to attack unions than to come to one of the most strongly union towns in the country and go after one of the toughest unions in the town?” Moran said.

    In reality, Dougherty was tried and convicted by a jury of his peers for systematic violence and intimidation committed by the union he led.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsCrime & CorruptionEmployee Rights ActViolence
  8. California’s Worst Franchisor? The SEIU.

    Trojan HorseThe Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is currently directing its political lackeys in the California State Legislature to advance a bill that makes it harder for franchisors to change, revoke, or fail to renew contracts with their franchisees. This political fight has created a bizarre alliance between SEIU, which has spent something on the order of $50 million trying to make franchisees’ lives more difficult with union labor rules, and a handful of franchisees annoyed at provisions of their franchise contracts.

    The disaffected franchisees shouldn’t trust SEIU for numerous reasons—the union, after all, wants to saddle their operations with massive hikes in their number-one cost, labor.

    More important, though, is the fact that the SEIU has zero credibility to criticize franchisors who are interested in revoking the contracts of their franchisees. The SEIU specializes in aggressive shut-downs of independent subordinates, in California in particular. Numerous SEIU locals in California have been dismembered, abolished, or merged under pressure from SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and her predecessor, the infamous Andy Stern.

    • Henry is currently attempting to shore up her leadership by splitting a chunk of SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) members into a new local with handpicked leadership, Local 2015.
    • Henry placed Workers United, SEIU Local 50 into trusteeship—rule by a handpicked board—after its executive board moved to disaffiliate from SEIU.
    • Stern announced a plan to move thousands of long-term care workers from SEIU UHW and SEIU Local 521 into SEIU Local 6434, under the leadership of handpicked Stern crony Tyrone Freeman. Freeman would later be deposed by the union, charged by the feds, and sentenced to prison for corruption, including allegedly stealing member dues to pay for his wedding in Hawaii.
    • After a very loud dispute with SEIU UHW leader Sal Rosselli over a series of reorganizations (including the Local 6434 reorganization) that reduced Rosselli’s membership ranks, Stern deposed Rosselli and put UHW into trusteeship. Rosselli broke with SEIU and formed his own union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which is now part of the AFL-CIO.
    • SEIU under Andy Stern merged four local janitors’ unions into a new “district council,” SEIU United Service Workers West, which took control of substantial portions of the locals’ finances and curtailed their autonomy.
    • SEIU UHW was formed by the merger of SEIU Local 250 and SEIU Local 399, in accordance with an SEIU policy adopted in the early 2000s that local unions should be consolidated into state- and region-wide mega-locals by industry groups.

    In truth, SEIU is an exceptionally aggressive “franchisor” of its ostensibly autonomous and democratic “local” unions, even as it claims to want to rein in restaurant and other business franchisors. This staggering hypocrisy shows that franchisees should beware of unions, especially when they’re bearing gifts.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsCrime & CorruptionSEIU