Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

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  1. Toss Another Dead Front Group on the Pile?

    Dead Front GroupsWe had noticed that United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) front group Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) had gone fairly quiet. Launched amid great fanfare in November 2011, OUR Walmart may now be headed out to pasture. After a change of leadership at UFCW headquarters, the campaign’s focus is moving from a costly ground-level attempt at organizing to a media and advertising effort.

    The first public inkling that all was not well in the supposedly independent UFCW subordinate organization was a report in The Washington Post that headquarters had cut the campaign’s funding in half. Now, it seems that the campaign’s leaders—both UFCW employees on greater than $140,000 annual salaries—are out as well. Buzzfeed reports:

    But its main financial backer, the United Food and Commercial Workers union, has decided to change course. Just weeks before the Walmart shareholders meeting in May, it fired two top leaders of Our Walmart, Dan Schlademan and Andrea Dehlendorf, according to multiple sources outside the union. The two, who did not respond to requests for comment, had been instrumental in leading marches, Black Friday actions, and sit-ins at Walmart stores.

    While the UFCW denies that the moves are a sidelining of the campaign, it looks like OUR Walmart is headed down the path of numerous failed union efforts to pressure Wal-Mart, America’s largest retailer, into unionizing. Here are just a few:

    • Making Change at Walmart: UFCW, 2011-present
    • OUR Walmart: UFCW, 2011-2015?
    • Walmart Workers for Change: UFCW, 2009
    • Wake Up Walmart: UFCW, 2005-2011
    • Wal-Mart Watch: SEIU and UFCW, 2005-2011
    • Walmart Alliance for Reform Now: SEIU-funded, ACORN-operated, 2006-2009
    • Wal-Mart Workers Association: SEIU-funded, ACORN-operated, 2005-2006
    • Walmart Workers of America: UFCW, 2005
    • The People’s Campaign—Justice @ Wal-Mart: UFCW, 2002-2003

    And what have the UFCW and its onetime Change to Win stable-mate the SEIU received for this roll of dead (and dying) front groups? Nothing. Wal-Mart employees have resisted every effort in this period to organize under the UFCW banner.

    There’s a bigger story here as well, one that applies not only to the UFCW’s ongoing decade of failure to unionize Wal-Mart, but also to the larger “alt-labor” or “worker center” trend. The ideas behind alt-labor—hiding union organizing that employees aren’t interested in behind a public pressure campaign—are over a decade old, and they have generally not been successful. It shouldn’t be shocking that the UFCW is shifting away from its OUR Walmart worker center and that backbiting within the SEIU over the unrealized investments in its “Fight for $15” has begun—members aren’t coming in, just as they didn’t come in through “The People’s Campaign—Justice @ Wal-Mart” a decade and a half ago.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsChange To WinSEIUUFCWWorkers Center
  2. High Court Takes Challenge to Randi’s Forced Dues

    GavelThe Supreme Court just agreed to take a major labor union case for its 2015-2016 sitting, titled Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. At stake is the power of public-sector unions like Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to collect forced dues—so-called “agency fees”—from non-members forced to accept their representation in at least 25 states.

    Several employees forced to pay agency fees—the lead plaintiff is elementary school teacher Rebecca Friedrichs—are suing the California Teachers Association (CTA), arguing that requiring public employees to pay any fees to a labor organization that they don’t support violates the First Amendment. Alternatively, if such fees are not facially unconstitutional, the Constitution might require paycheck protection for public employees—an opt-in, rather than opt-out, to paying for public unions’ political programs.

    Current law in the 25 forced-unionism states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and all U.S. Territories other than Guam lets unions force all employees that they represent to pay the portion of dues that applies to collective bargaining. Certain rights to refrain from funding political expenditures that employees disagree with are set by two Supreme Court decisions: Communications Workers of America v. Beck in the private sector and Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson in the public sector. But under Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, public employees can be forced to pay fees for “collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment purposes.”

    That may change. In its opinion in Harris v. Quinn, which struck down the SEIU’s forced “dues skim” from home-healthcare workers in Illinois and several other states, Justice Samuel Alito — writing for a majority of the Court — indicated strongly that he (and, implicitly, the majority of the unchanged Harris court) thought Abood needed to go. The fundamental contradiction at the heart of public-sector unionism, that employees can “elect” management and bargain over what are true public policies, seems to make compelling agency fees from public employees for any purpose equivalent to compelling them for political purposes, which has been long established as unconstitutional.

    Public-sector unions like the CTA’s parent National Education Association (NEA), AFT, AFSCME, and the SEIU are clearly worried about the potential that Abood will be overruled. Politico reports on the unions’ statement: Devoid of legal reasoning or defense of forced dues, it is paint-by-numbers scaremongering:

    “We are disappointed that at a time when big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance, the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America — that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a decent life,” they said.

    Indeed, it does not appear that the unions expect forced dues to survive for long. Mike Antonucci notes that the NEA has already circulated a guide to union finance and organizing in a post-forced-dues world. The Washington Examiner’s Sean Higgins reported that the CTA has been strategizing for “not if, but when” California forbids forced dues.

    Even if the unions win this case, the march of employee rights across the country poses a mortal threat to forced dues. Twenty-five states—up from 22 just three years ago—have enacted right-to-work laws that end all forced dues. Four more—Missouri, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and West Virginia—made serious (albeit unsuccessful) efforts to pass their own right-to-work laws in the most recent legislative sessions.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsPolitical MoneyRight-to-WorkTeachers UnionsUnfair Share
  3. About That Big Labor Union Victory

    facepalmIt’s an emerging Washington pundit-class genre: Big Labor’s big comeback. But as with many Beltway memes, there’s often less than meets the eye. And so it is with the latest round of stories. A couple of weeks ago, we saw the following three headlines after a trade bill lost a procedural vote (from Politico, The New York Times, and The Atlantic, respectively):

    Labor won POLITICO

    Labor's Might NYT

    Big Win Atlantic


    “Labor’s Might.” “Huge win for labor.” “Big Win for Big Labor.” Oh really? Well, not so much, it turns out. The bill that labor blocked (Trade Promotion Authority, which sets rules for final negotiations and approval or rejection of trading arrangements) was revised and just passed Congress, with the President expected to sign it. The big, huge win that revealed labor’s might … lasted all of two weeks.

    Now, if you happened to browse the headlines, you might have missed the reversal. Neither The Atlantic, the New York Times, nor Politico—the sources of the triumphant headlines above—mentioned unions’ defeat in their headlines on the final passage of Trade Promotion Authority Wednesday. The Wall Street Journal recognized the fortnight’s switch in fortunes:

    WSJ Licks Wounds


    After talking tough about cutting off pro-trade Democrats from its political slush funds and suspending contributions until trade was defeated, the AFL-CIO and Richard Trumka have turned the taps back on, acknowledging certain defeat. Despite numerous “hot takes” and think-pieces on how labor was turning a corner, there isn’t evidence that that is happening. The SEIU’s efforts to organize the restaurant industry have seen something like $50 million chase essentially no gain in membership to date. Now the AFL-CIO’s much-ballyhooed “huge win” on trade has evaporated before it sank in. We can be certain that Beltway pundits will proclaim Big Labor’s renaissance again: It’s almost as certain that it will be more rhetoric than reality.


    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsPolitical MoneyUnion Spending
  4. Did Mary Kay Henry Sacrifice Healthcare Workers to Her Political Interests?

    dispute_jpgService Employees International Union officials are throwing accusations at each other over a major power play by national President Mary Kay Henry in California. Henry is fighting with Dave Regan—President of the United Healthcare Workers local and a Vice President on SEIU’s International Executive Board—for control of 70,000 of Regan’s members.

    Henry has ordered Regan’s United Healthcare Workers (UHW) local—the largest union local in California—divided, with 70,000 of Regan’s workers moved into a new union, SEIU Local 2015. The new union will be bigger than UHW. That has Regan spitting fire at his boss, Mary Kay Henry:

    Regan said the local’s leadership first officially heard about the plan to downsize UHW in January, but believes it was hatched last October and has roots in years of enmity between local and national leaders.


    “We are absolutely clear this decision is malicious and undertaken with the full knowledge that the interests of California healthcare workers are being sacrificed to the political needs of Mary Kay Henry,” Regan wrote. “We are ashamed and embarrassed for our Union.”

    The internal squabble which makes a mockery of unions’ claims that democratic leadership elections give members meaningful influence over the organizations’ directions will continue, as the process of creating Local 2015 will begin in the coming months. In many ways, the fight echoes the 2009-10 dispute between Regan, a protégé of then-SEIU President Andy Stern, and Sal Rosselli, whom Stern had deposed as head of UHW and who subsequently ran off to form his own union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers. Rosselli was entertained by Regan’s new predicament:

    When I reached Rosselli by phone, he thoroughly enjoyed the irony of the situation, noting that Regan is now tangling with Henry over the same issue that splintered the union almost seven years ago, whether long-term-care workers are better off in UHW and other broad health care locals or in a specialized unit.

    We can expect more fireworks from both sides in this dispute, as control of tens of thousands of union leadership proxy votes and hundreds of thousands of dollars in dues money are at stake.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsChange To WinSEIU
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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