Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

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  1. United Steelworkers Boss Busted for Embezzlement

    30 pieces of silverUnion bosses know a thing or two about the wrong side of the law. David R. Sager, the former president of the United Steelworkers Local 5000, is now under federal indictment for embezzling more than $185,000 from the union’s strike fund. Law360 has more:

    “A 29-count federal indictment has been unsealed charging David R. Sager of Gibsonburg, Ohio with embezzlement or theft from a labor union, mail fraud, obstruction of justice, and making false statements of law enforcement.”

    When Local 5000 went on strike in 2009 over a contract renewal, the union established a strike fund to provide financial relief to striking members. While overseeing the distribution of relief funds, Sager allegedly submitted over $185,000 in benefits requests, while he and his wife raked in nearly $160,000 in income. With union members mired in a prolonged strike, Sager allegedly spent dues dollars on fine restaurant dining and Carrie Underwood concert tickets. Prosecutors claim that Sager also used more than $32,000 in union money to pay for his mortgage and phone bills.

    According to U.S. Attorney Carole Rendon, “This defendant betrayed the union membership he promised to represent.”

    Categories: Crime & CorruptionGolf and Other NecessitiesLegalUnion Spending
  2. New Jersey Teachers Unions Hold Back Students

    In New Jersey, thousands of students languish on waiting lists for charter schools, desperate but unable to leave failing public schools.

    The main reason? Teachers unions, which have spent of millions of dollars attacking charter schools—and those who support them. Governor Chris Christie recently admitted as much, insisting that union bosses are keeping students trapped in “failure factories” by vilifying politicians who back school choice. Gov. Christie himself was the target of more than $10 million in attack ads during his 2012 reelection campaign. Hear his story here:

    Categories: AFTTeachers UnionsUnion Spending
  3. AFL-CIO Boss Attends Fidel Castro’s Birthday

    peekabooIt’s no secret that labor unions are fond of economic redistribution. After all, labor leaders take hundreds of millions of dues dollars from their members and give predominantly to left-leaning causes each year, even though about 40 percent of union households vote Republican. Union bosses defend this reverse Robin Hood arrangement—whereby union workers are compelled to pay for well-funded political advocacy—by claiming that they’re nonpartisan champions of the working class.

    But it’s difficult to gloss over the political biases of a union president, however, when he attends a birthday party for Fidel Castro. Fred Douglas Mason, Jr., president of the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, joined the birthday celebration for the retired Cuban dictator in Baltimore, which was hosted by the Baltimore chapter of the Workers World Party, an American communist party.

    Castro is remembered, of course, for establishing a one-party communist regime in Cuba after a bloody civil war and maintaining it by murdering or exiling his pro-democracy opponents. He heavily restricted free speech, ushered in an era of press censorship, outlawed peaceful assembly, squashed political dissent, and played a game of nuclear brinkmanship with the United States. The Cuba Archive project has verified over 9,000 victims of Castro’s reign of terror, and estimates that almost 78,000 innocent civilians may have died trying to flee the communist dictatorship.

    It’s hard to imagine that many union members—regardless of party affiliation—would be comfortable supporting a union boss with a soft spot for oppressive (and murderous) communist dictators.

    Categories: AFL-CIOPolitical MoneyViolence
  4. America’s Undemocratic Labor Movement

    shutterstock_194916617In most union workplaces, democracy is a thing of the past.

    The Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk recently found that labor unions represent eight million employees, only 478,000 of whom—a dismal six percent—ever voted for the union currently “representing” their interests. That’s right: 94 percent of dues-paying union members never even voted in favor of their union representation. (This is consistent with an earlier analysis from the Center for Union Facts.)

    Under current labor law, most unions have been grandfathered into the workplace—passed down from past generations, while current employees sit idly by and answer to union bosses whom they had no hand in electing. Worse yet, employees are guaranteed neither secret ballot union elections nor the opportunity to periodically re-assess their union representation through mandatory recertification votes. Leaving a union remains extremely difficult, as labor organizers have fostered a culture of intimidation pressuring employees and squashing dissent.

    How can democracy be restored?

    It’s easy: The Employee Rights Act (ERA), a popular piece of labor legislation which would guarantee secret ballot union elections and require union bosses to stand for re-election when a workplace experiences substantial turnover. Americans for Prosperity has more:

    Extending [the right of recertification] to workers in the private sector would require congressional action, but thankfully, there is already a bill to do so. Congressman Tom Price and Senator Orrin Hatch’s “Employee Rights Act,” which was endorsed by Americans for Prosperity, would require periodic union recertification elections, among other reforms, and has over 160 cosponsors.

    It’s no wonder that the ERA is supported by 80 percent of Americans, including those in union households.

    All employees deserve democracy—and they need it now.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActEnding Secret Ballots
  5. Construction Unions Build Barriers to Affordable Housing

    dispute_jpgGovernor Jerry Brown of California recently pledged to spend $400 million on low-income housing subsidies, as part of a plan to scrap local restrictions that make it difficult to build more housing in California—a primary driver of the state’s skyrocketing housing costs. (California is seeing a mass exodus of residents to neighboring states for that same reason.)

    Under Gov. Brown’s proposal, housing developers would be allowed to bypass certain regulations if they set aside between five and 20 percent of their projects for lower-income residents (the exact number depends on the proximity of the development to public transportation).

    So who’s building obstacles between developers and residents in need of an affordable place to live? Big Labor.

    The State Building and Construction Trades Council (SBCTC) wants Gov. Brown to force developers to pay construction workers so-called prevailing wages—the (inflated) going rate for union labor. But the greed of California’s union bosses has now put affordable housing projects in jeopardy. Forcing developers to pay employees significantly higher wages makes them far less likely to build new homes. As Ben Metcalf, the governor’s director of Housing and Community Development, put it: “The cost-benefit analysis is such that few developers could actually afford to do that.”

    Legislators are now “feeling the heat” from the SBCTC to reject Brown’s plans. In Metcalf’s words: “They are getting a lot of political pressure from significant constituencies that don’t want this to happen.”

    The real losers here are working-class Californians with nowhere to live, forced to sit idly by as union bosses put their interests first.

    Categories: Building and Construction Trades Council
  6. No Surprise Here: Union Bosses are “Out of Touch”


    Union bosses talk a big game when it comes to helping their employees. But the American people beg to differ.

    According to a recent Rasmussen poll, only 20 percent of likely U.S. voters believe that labor leaders “do a good job representing union members.” Almost 60 percent claim that most union bosses are “out of touch” with most of their members.

    But actual union members couldn’t possibly think that, right? Actually, they do. As Rasmussen notes:

    “Most voters—including those who are now or have been union members—believe the majority of union leaders are out of touch with their membership nationwide.”

    Among U.S. voters who are now or have been a member of a labor union, only 25 percent believe that “union leaders do a good job representing their membership.” That’s right: Only one in four current or former union employees can say that union bosses are doing a “good job.” Well over half of these voters argue that union bosses are “out of touch,” while half of them agree that unions generally “have too much political influence.”

    That’s exactly why the American people—especially union members—need the Employee Rights Act (ERA), legislation which would update American labor law to hold union bosses accountable to employees. Among other pro-employee provisions, the ERA would guarantee secret-ballot union elections and require labor organizers to obtain prior approval before using employees’ dues dollars for political activities. Now supported by 80 percent of Americans and more than 165 members of Congress, the bill’s pro-employee reforms rein in unapproved political spending so that union representatives can actually go back to representing their employees—not wage dues-funded political crusades.

    Most Americans are fed up with union bosses. And most Americans say that the ERA would help. The time for change is now.

    Categories: Employee Rights Act
  7. National Employee Freedom Week Gains Traction

    hands shakingThis week is National Employee Freedom Week (NEFW), an annual grassroots campaign of more than 85 organizations (including the Center for Union Facts) educating constituents about their rights to leave their union or stop paying the portion of their dues that funds union political activities.

    The coalition is also promoting a new policy called “Worker’s Choice,” which creates a new paradigm in labor relations. It would allow employees who have left their unions to negotiate individually with their employers. This overcomes one of the main arguments against “right-to-work” legislation—which allows employees to decline union membership—known as the “free rider” effect (i.e. those who receive the benefit of union representation but don’t pay for it). See here:

    To commemorate NEFW, a wide array of labor experts have published op-ed columns voicing their support for workplace democracy:

    Categories: Center for Union FactsEmployee Rights Act
  8. Johnny Doc, Where’s the Brotherly Love?

    GavelOne of America’s most powerful union bosses has some serious legal problems. John J. “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, the business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 98, is currently under federal and state investigation.

    Why? Dougherty’s own finances, as well as the union’s donations to political campaigns and “allegations of a pattern of intimidation.”

    When it comes to excess, IBEW Local 98—the most powerful construction union in Philadelphia—takes the cake. As The Philadelphia Inquirer recently chronicled, “Even for non-wonks, the 77-page Local 98 [annual] report makes fascinating reading.”

    Fascinating indeed. Check out some of the union’s 2015 expenditures:

    • $430,784 in sports tickets and other entertainment expenses:
      • Wells Fargo Center: $194,084
      • Philadelphia Eagles: $112,186
      • Philadelphia Phillies: $55,255
      • Pittsburgh Steelers: $23,881
      • Pittsburgh Pirates: $22,129
      • Philadelphia Flyers:$10,140
      • PNC Park: $6,829
      • PSSI Stadium: $6,280
    • $25,255 to Lore’s Chocolates labeled as “gifts for the goodwill of the union”
    • $11,803 to The Coach Store labeled as “holiday gifts”
    • $10,255 to Canal’s Discount Liquors—$6,194 for “holiday gifts” and $4,031 in unexplained expenditures
    • $8,925 to Well Deserved Corporate Spa Services, another non-itemized expense

    Even that’s not all. “Johnny Doc” earned $406,532 last year—including $226,754 in base salary and $168,308 in “disbursements for official business.” Counting Dougherty, the local union paid 27 employees six-figure salaries using member dues.

    Local 98 stands out among East Coast construction unions. Boston’s IBEW Local 103 paid its president, Louis Antonellis, $153,978 in base salary, with less than $3,000 reserved for business-related spending. The union’s filings with the Department of Labor revealed no money spent on “political activities and lobbying”—rare for a big-city construction union and a far cry from Local 98’s nearly $2 million allotment for politicking.

    Dougherty’s taste for the finer things in life—from Coach products to luxury chocolates—sets him apart. And by Big Labor’s standards, that’s saying something.

    Categories: Crime & CorruptionGolf and Other NecessitiesPolitical MoneyUnion SpendingViolence