Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

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  1. SEIU Loud about Fake Strikes, Quiet on Membership Numbers

    The Service Employees International Union has spent something on the order of $50 million as part of its “Fight for 15” campaign to unionize quick-service restaurants. However, the union isn’t yet collecting much in the way of new dues in response to this massive investment.

    We found an old SEIU press release from early 2009, when the 2008 Bureau of Labor Statistics annual estimate of unionization in the workforce came out. It was full of labor optimism, closing as follows (bold in the original):

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) annual union membership report, released today, shows that the share of workers belonging to a union rose in 2008. This is the largest growth rate on record since the data was first collected in 1983. Growth in SEIU–88,926 members–accounted for nearly 21 percent of the national growth.

    Based on a look through SEIU’s press releases of late, though, that growth has stopped. They aren’t bragging about membership growth or a burgeoning union movement anymore, choosing instead to go quiet on the issue. And the numbers confirm it: SEIU’s own membership has been effectively stagnant since it absorbed Workers United (formerly a UNITE Here property) in 2009.

    SEIU membership

    The SEIU and its allies have made a big deal about how “worker centers” and organization efforts like “Fight for 15” show a resurgence in the labor movement. In truth, they are highly speculative, high-risk/high-reward bets that businesses will not show resilience in the face of union attacks. As of today, the money going in is increasing, but the members coming out isn’t.

    SEIU members vs spending

    Meanwhile, union density nationwide—the proportion of the workforce that consists of union members—is continuing its downward trend.

    Union density trend 08thru14

    Categories: Center for Union FactsChange To WinSEIUWorkers Center
  2. AFT Locals Riven by Division, Dodgy Elections

    3409642414_a401c0d007.jpgThe American Federation of Teachers (AFT), led by Randi Weingarten, has a history of misdeeds by its local unions. Some past local officials have gone to prison for years for corrupt practices. Now, two local AFT unions are riven by internal political squabbles, with Detroit’s union president facing recall and the local for Orange County, Florida (Orlando and its suburbs) facing takeover by headquarters.

    In Detroit, the term of radical new Detroit Federation of Teachers President Steve Conn hasn’t gotten off to a good start. A recent rally against education reforms proposed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder that Conn held was poorly attended after unions for other public school employees told members not to attend.

    Some of the demonstrators who did show up were members of “By Any Means Necessary,” a left-wing activist group with close ties to Conn. Conn has allegedly allowed BAMN demonstrators who aren’t union members to attend, disrupt, and even try to voice vote in the union meetings—which has Conn’s internal union opponents circulating recall petitions. Opponents say they have nearly enough signatures to start a formal recall process.

    Meanwhile in Florida, the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association may be placed under direct rule from union headquarters amid allegations that local president Diana Moore has been cheating in the union’s internal elections. The Orlando Sentinel reports that a state-level union investigation found that Moore had allegedly engaged in “a systemic pattern of behavior and activity by President Moore and a few of her choice supporters with the apparent intent of coalescing control of the union in themselves at the unfortunate cost of a democratic union.”

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers Unions
  3. Racial Slurs by Union Picketers A-OK, NLRB Judge Says

    Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 4.05If a normal person stood outside his or her workplace and shouted racist epithets at coworkers and passersby, that person would be fired. But an Administrative Law Judge with the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that normal rules of civilized conduct don’t apply while on union business, ordering Anthony Runion, a United Steelworkers picketer who yelled racist comments at replacement workers, to be rehired.

    It’s not a close call whether the comments were across generally respected lines of conduct, either. You can read what was allegedly said at The Daily Caller—we can’t reprint it on a family website.

    And the NLRB judge agreed that Runion said the nasty things his employer said he said. But because “his conduct on the picket line, while racist and offensive, was not violent in character, not accompanied by violent or threatening behavior” the judge ruled that he could not be disciplined and had to be reinstated with back pay.

    An apparent exemption—indeed, near-absolute protection—from social rules regarding civil conduct isn’t the only benefit that unions get from federal law. Even certain extortionate conduct “to achieve legitimate union objectives” is exempt from federal prohibitions, while numerous states have carve-outs letting unions get away with offenses that are crimes otherwise.

    And while officials with President Obama’s notoriously partisan NLRB may not be willing to do anything about these loopholes, Congress and state legislatures might. The federal Employee Rights Act, soon to be reintroduced to Congress, would close federal loopholes unions exploit to make threats without federal sanction, while states are also exploring ending protection for union threats.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsCrime & CorruptionEmployee Rights ActNLRB
  4. Democrats Say Unions Crossing the Line on Trade

    democrat napkinUnions and Democratic Party politicians are infamously loyal to one another. Labor PACs consistently send about 90 percent of their contributions to Democrats—even as roughly 40 percent of union households consistently vote Republican—and Democrats supply labor favors in return. But when labor and Democrats disagree, unions can savage their allies as brutally as they would a labor-reform-minded Midwestern governor.

    The current source of consternation between Democrats and labor are a series of free trade bills supported by erstwhile labor favorite President Barack Obama. While many Democrats are noncommittal on the “Trade Promotion Authority” measure that would allow President Obama to negotiate a Pacific free-trade deal and submit a bill for an up-or-down vote, labor is playing hardball—including suspending its campaign contribution program until the bill is defeated—to block it. Labor has also begun running television ads targeting trade-supporting Democrats, most notably Ami Bera of Sacramento—who took over $160,000 in contributions from labor in his 2014 reelection.

    The aggressiveness of unions’ attacks on the trade front has Democratic Representatives very angry at their usual allies. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from New Orleans, told CNN: “Labor is going a little overboard and I think there is some potential backlash for how far they are going.” Chicago Rep. Mike Quigley was even harsher, noting, “If you just look at [Trade Promotion Authority] from a rational view, you’d have a lot more yeses.”

    Labor’s desperation illustrates the problem that unions’ self-isolation in the political universe has caused. By cultivating support almost exclusively from one party, unions made themselves the Democrats’ “cheap date” that can be easily ignored when another coalition party demands satisfaction.

    That doesn’t mean that elected Democrats are necessarily out of the woods: Labor has made self-destructive efforts to ensure Democrats’ absolute loyalty before. In 2010, then-Senator Blanche Lincoln, who opposed the card-check bill that labor made a litmus test, faced over $3 million in SEIU attacks on behalf of primary challenger Bill Halter. While Lincoln beat back the challenge, labor’s spiteful attacks depleted her resources and left her hopeless in the general election against Republican John Boozman, who ended up unseating her by 21 points.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActPolitical MoneyUnion Spending
  5. New Hampshire AFL-CIO Allegedly Disenfranchises Members

    electionAmerica’s labor unions are not fans of private votes, as their support of the anti-democratic public “card check” representation procedure clearly demonstrates. And their support of “union democracy”—internal procedures to allow members a say in the union’s governance—is rhetorical at best. The latest example comes from New Hampshire, where the state AFL-CIO declared its President, Mark MacKenzie, re-elected by disqualifying allegedly legal ballots.

    The New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper reports on the methods the incumbents used to toss out ballots:

    The results of an election that saw longtime New Hampshire AFL-CIO President Mark MacKenzie retain his post by a margin of fewer than two dozen votes are being challenged amid allegations that hundreds of votes cast for the runner-up were invalidated because members used check marks to indicate their preference rather than an “X” mark, according to an internal letter obtained by the New Hampshire Union Leader.

     

    The appeal was filed by Glenn Brackett, business manager of the New Hampshire International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who lost the election 4,230 to 4,209, but wrote that 691 votes that were invalidated would have changed the results of the election.

    The inclusion of these “lost” votes would do more than raise the final vote tally—it would actually swing the election. Local TV station WMUR reports that the 21-vote margin of victory for the incumbent should have been a 600+ vote loss with all votes counted. The loser has appealed to national AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka himself, who can override the decision of the state union.

    The lengths to which it appears some in the New Hampshire AFL-CIO were willing to go to ensure that the incumbent stayed in power illustrates the sham of internal union officer elections. Instead, a real stick is needed, one operated outside of the union system—and recertification, requiring unions to periodically show that they retain majority support, is an important step to ensuring a real employee voice in the workplace.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights Act
  6. SEIU’s Amazing Brazilian Adventure

    ba planeWhile doing some analysis of how the  Service Employees International Union spends members dues, one item struck us as very odd: SEIU spent $328,000 in 2014 on “legal support for organizing” from a Brazilian law firm, Piza Avogados Associados. (The union has shipped $389,429 in total to the firm over the last four years.)

    That’s a significant amount of money for legal help in a country where SEIU has no bargaining units. But the union is hoping for a big return on its legal investment: The evidence suggests that it’s part of the same campaign against chain restaurants that has played out in the United States.

    Here’s the backstory. Piza Avogados Associados specializes (according to its English-language website) in “union rights,” among other things. Among those efforts are advocating for unions before Brazil’s analog to the National Labor Relations Board, called the Justiça do Trabalho or Labor Court. Newspaper reports in Brazil and the United States show Piza attorneys speaking to the media about and filing labor court complaints against McDonald’s Brazilian operations.

    Meanwhile, as part of the so-called “Fast Food Strikes,” the SEIU has begun an expensive harassment campaign against Arcos Dorados—the largest McDonald’s franchise in Brazil. The SEIU’s pension funds (CtW Investment Group) which own stock in Arcos are calling for the company to be taken off the stock exchange.  There’s also evidence that SEIU’s political consultants—the controversial and well-paid NYC P.R. shop Berlin Rosen—are also involved in the Brazilian effort. A blog post on a franchise industry news blog credits Berlin Rosen with taking (or otherwise providing) photographs of a union demonstration against the company in Sao Paulo.

    Now, the SEIU-funded Center for American Progress Action Fund, through its ThinkProgress website, reports that  the SEIU and allied Brazilian trade unions—one of which, the CNTSS, received $20,000 in “support for organizing” expenditures from SEIU—will soon receive a hearing in the Brazilian Senate to make more complaints against Arcos Dorados.

    The penalties are nothing to sneeze at:

    Brazil’s labor courts “could impose fines as high as an eye-popping 30 percent of the company’s sales revenue and prohibit Arcos Dorados from opening new locations in the country until it proves it has come into compliance with workplace laws.”

    What’s the possible prize here? Arcos controls, either as operator or sub-franchisor, over 100 McDonald’s outlets in the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, where SEIU would like to organize workers. SEIU can essentially use a worldwide corporate campaign in countries where unions are more powerful than in the U.S. (and the governments are more corrupt) to force Arcos to concede to SEIU unionization of its employees by the intimidatory “card check” procedure in Puerto Rico.

    Notably, Arcos operations in Puerto Rico also play into the SEIU and NLRB plan to declare franchisors “joint employers,” since the company franchises many of the Puerto Rican McDonald’s outlets to other operators. One of them, Jose Quijano–a collaborator in SEIU’s bizarre franchisee-union partnership–was discovered speaking to the media on an SEIU-orchestrated conference call promoting the SEIU’s Federal Trade Commission challenge to essentially all franchisor/franchisee agreements.

    Ultimately, the Brazilian attack on McDonald’s/Arcos Dorados is a sideshow to the main event of the corporate campaign to unionize fast food. But it shows that SEIU will go to essentially the ends of the Earth in the pursuit of more compulsory union members and their money.

    Categories: Change To WinSEIUUnion Spending
  7. Union President Pay Watch, 2015

    moneyLast week, the AFL-CIO released its annual report that claims to compare how much average employees make compared to business chief executives. The union federation alleged that CEOs make over 300 times what the “average worker” makes.

    Mark Perry at the American Enterprise Institute, among others, has chronicled the numerous flaws with this argument. Unions get their absurd comparisons by cherry-picking only the S&P 500 executives to represent all CEOs to juice their final number. This would be like picking only major league professional athletes to represent the “average worker” – choosing the highest-compensated non-representative group possible.

    The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) compiles data on how much people who do different jobs make each year. In 2014 (the most recent available year), BLS found that the 246,240 “chief executives” made an average salary of $180,700. That’s no small amount of money, but it’s not the millions that the AFL-CIO touts in its press releases.

    And what’s even most interesting is that the union doesn’t seem to care so much about pay discrepancies when it comes to its own. Many union presidents are paid more than the average chief executive, as befits the leader of an organization handling millions of dollars in (often forced) dues money. All told, 162 union presidents, executive presidents, or general presidents were paid more than $180,700 in gross salary alone in 2014 union fiscal years, according to Department of Labor records. Add in other officers like secretary-treasurer and vice presidents, and the number grows.

    The top ten best-paid union presidents (not including those who retired mid-year and presumably took deferred compensation) by gross salary are:

    UnionSalary15BySalary

    The AFL-CIO’s “PayWatch” includes all compensation for S&P 500 executives, not just salaries. And not surprisingly, union bosses also cash in on expense accounts and other compensation. The top ten total pay packages (again, excluding union presidents who retired) are below:

    UnionComp15
    Richard Trumka wants the public to compare the pay of the people who run major, multi-national companies like Coca-Cola, Lockheed Martin, and Yahoo with the teenager who scans groceries at the checkout counter. It’s an economically illiterate comparison—it takes a particular set of very refined skills and knowledge to manage a multinational corporation, while almost anyone with a pulse can scan groceries. In fact, it also takes a unique sets of skills to run a labor union, and union bosses would surely argue that they’re being compensated fairly. The difference is that union bosses are paid from mostly compelled dues rather than the revenues generated from voluntary commercial customers.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAnti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsGolf and Other Necessities
  8. Want to Kill a City? Ask Unions.

    StreetPhotos-125 2Recently, Baltimore, Maryland was racked by days of protests that surged into one night of violent rioting after a man died under suspicious circumstances—ruled by prosecutors to be an alleged criminal homicide—while in police custody.

    The focus on the city led many, including The Wall Street Journal’s William Galston, to ask why Baltimore has remained relatively poor while cities like Pittsburgh that suffered mid-century economic declines have recovered. Less attention has been paid to how both Pittsburgh and Baltimore got there in the first place—and as our Executive Director responds in today’s Journal, unions bear much of the blame:

    I should know—as a former labor lawyer in the steel industry, I witnessed some of labor unions’ worst excesses firsthand. Wedded to unsustainable pension schemes and rigid work rules, organized labor had no real answer to the new economic world beyond cutting America off from it.

    Steel industry unions aren’t the only Big Labor culprits in Baltimore’s decline and failure to recover. Some commentators have pointed to police union efforts to protect officers under criminal investigation from accountability as contributing to the hostility between the public and the police. Baltimore’s unionized public school system—which has teachers represented by Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers—has largely failed to educate the city’s children, despite high per-student spending. And that’s not to say that Pittsburgh is out of the labor woods. The SEIU is pushing to unionize the Steel City’s largest employer (the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center)—by an undemocratic card-check process where private ballot elections are bypassed.  If Baltimore and Pittsburgh want to get and stay out of the economic doldrums, they’ll need to redouble efforts to solicit private investment. There is a reason for business declines in some areas while growing in others. And it isn’t just the weather.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers Unions