Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

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  1. Union Settles Multi-Million-Dollar Civil Rights Suit

    construction workerUnion bosses talk a big game about supporting civil rights, but their practices don’t always match their civil rights rhetoric.

    Case in point: Local 28 of the Sheet Metal Workers union in New York agreed to a settlement with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that will cost the union up to $12.7 million, for its efforts to unfairly privilege white members over Hispanic and African-American members in job placement services.

    The lawsuit has been around for a while: The EEOC first filed the complaint in 1971, and members whose rights were allegedly violated in years preceding 1991 had already been compensated under prior settlement agreements.

    This week, the government parties announced that members affected between 1991 and 2006 would be compensated and that supervisory measures would be imposed on Local 28. A hearing will be held for a judge to review the final agreement in July.

    The Local 28 case is just an extreme example of unions putting their own perceived interests above the rights of their members. But union abuses—many legally permitted—are a major issue demanding significant reform. Taking action against already-illegal rights violations can only be the beginning of a conversation about changing the employee rights framework to empower individual employees in the workplace.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights Act
  2. Radical Labor Dragging Democrats Left of Obama

    democrat napkinBig Labor is a key partisan constituent in the Democratic Party coalition, as evidenced by the fact that roughly 90 percent of union PAC contributions to candidates and an even greater percentage of union contributions to non-party ideological organizations go to Democrats and the Left.

    However, that doesn’t mean that Democrats always give unions what they want. The latest schism? The Obama Administration is pushing a series of trade promotion bills that have significant bi-partisan support in the Republican-controlled Congress, and labor unions aren’t taking kindly to this outbreak of economic sense. The Wall Street Journal reports:

    Dozens of major labor unions plan to freeze campaign contributions to members of Congress to pressure them to oppose fast-track trade legislation sought by President Barack Obama, according to labor officials. […]


    Unions have opposed the TPP through demonstrations, letters to lawmakers and political ads, but withholding political contributions is a more forceful way of flexing their muscle. In the 2014 midterm elections, unions—the lifeblood of the Democratic Party—contributed about $65 million from their political-action committee, or PACs, to candidates, nearly all Democrats.

    So the AFL-CIO and other labor unions now find themselves stuck in the classic bind of the political “cheap date”—since they aren’t going to start funding the other party, they can be safely sidelined. It’s the same reason why unions’ concerns that their healthcare plans were unfairly treated under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) have fallen on deaf ears.

    Now, unions have begun trying a different approach: If the Democratic Party won’t carry your water, elect a new Democratic Party. We see this in efforts like Ms. Zephyr Teachout’s union-backed candidacy for Governor of New York in 2014 or the SEIU’s attempt to oust Blanche Lincoln in a 2010 U.S. Senate election over her skepticism towards the card-check bill. Currently sitting on Big Labor’s hot-seat is Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a fairly orthodox liberal who nevertheless represents a trade-dependent state and has been trying to broker a compromise between a hesitant center-left and the more free-trade Republicans and Obama Administration. That may not be enough for a union movement that demands total fealty.

    But the labor-Administration divide on trade shows just how far from the political mainstream labor’s agenda is. Like the divide between the teachers unions and many liberals (including Education Secretary Arne Duncan) on the need for tenure reform, the divide between unions and the Administration on free trade shows that Big Labor will do anything to drag the Democratic Party and national policy to the left.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsPolitical MoneyUnion Spending
  3. Illinois Taxpayers Fund Teacher Union Lobbyist Pension

    moneyWhat if one day of teaching could earn you a five-figure-per-year taxpayer-funded pension? One retired Illinois Federation of Teachers lobbyist is trying to turn this pipedream into reality.

    Retired lobbyist David Piccioli taught as a substitute for one day, which under Illinois’s extremely generous union-backed state pension rules entitles him to $31,485 per year from the state Teachers Retirement System, calculated based on his pay as a lobbyist.

    That isn’t enough for Piccioli: He’s now suing, claiming that he’s entitled to roughly double the $31,000 figure because a state law closing the loophole he’s exploiting was passed after he began taking his taxpayer-funded pension.

    The scary thought? He might actually win, because a union-backed challenge to a recently-passed public pension reform law has gone all the way to the state Supreme Court on the grounds that the state constitution may prohibit any modification to pension benefits.

    It’s another demonstration of why public-sector unionism—of which teacher unionism is but the largest part—is so troublesome to states. Private-sector unions can cause problems for employee rights, but they face one ultimate constraint: If their demands cause the plant to go bust, the union goes bust too. Just ask the unions that represented Eastern Airlines and Hostess Brands, both of which liquidated in large part due to unsustainable union demands.

    Public-sector unions don’t face this constraint, since they can essentially elect management. With the union and union-elected management at the table, taxpayers become the mark, footing the bill for whatever gravy train the union and its political lapdogs come up with—like five-figure unalterable pensions for union lobbyists.

    Illinois is just the canary in the proverbial coal mine when it comes to unserviceable collectively bargained public-sector pensions. New Jersey may be next, but unions are fighting any changes to state pensions just as hard as they are in Illinois. Expect public sector unions to continue to play their political games and leave taxpayers holding the bag until taxpayers fight back against being the “mark.”

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers UnionsUnion Spending
  4. Don’t Fear Recertification

    hands shakingWhile unions who lose an organizing election can come back year after year until they win once and (effectively) forever.   The Employee Rights Act (ERA) would correct the structural imbalances in the organization process by requiring automatic recertification votes once half or more of the original certification voters had left the bargaining unit.

    This certification-related provisions have drawn some flak from an unlikely source: Some elements within big business, who fear disruptions to “business as usual.” But as our executive director notes in The Hill, recertification and decertification of unions haven’t led to chaos where they already exist. Roughly 190 bargaining units are decertified annually under the existing union-friendly procedure, but there is little evidence of any effect “other than a newfound workplace freedom for those who wanted it.”

    But the imbalances in the current process have real effects. Gaining the opportunity for a new election to get rid of a union is much easier said than done. Unions regularly rely on intimidation to ensure the dues flow keeps coming.

    Those in business and labor who oppose ERA out of fear are standing against large majorities of the public and union households, according to national polling. Recertification receives support from 84 percent of the public, and new rules to protect employees from union coercion when decertifying their unions gets 80 percent support.

    It’s time to empower employees and fix the problems in how labor unions are organized. The ERA would finally bring employee rights into the 21st Century, and Congress should act upon it as soon as it is reintroduced.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsEmployee Rights Act
  5. Do You Feel as Lucky as a Union Boss?

    Yesterday, our project challenged teachers and New York Post readers to test how their salary stacks up to that of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. Noting that on St. Patrick’s Day (and every other day) Weingarten is “Seeing Green” from her $557,000-plus salary and expenses package, we’re showing the following ad:AFT_NY_POST_StPatty_FINAL_OL

    You can also see how your salary stacks up by using our calculator. You’ll learn:

    • Where your pay ranks among the AFT’s headquarters employees, 185 of whom make six figures;
    • What your salary equates to as a percentage of Randi’s total half-million-plus haul; and
    • How many multiples of your salary the AFT spends on lobbying and politics.

    So head on over to and take the challenge. Then ask Randi why—despite making roughly 10 times what the Department of Education reports the average public schoolteacher makes—she opposes reforms that would give the best teachers more money.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers Unions
  6. Stay Classy, Big Labor

    fistsIt’s been a rough week for union bosses and their political patrons: On Monday, Wisconsin enacted a right-to-work law that forbids the conditioning of employment on the payment of union dues or fees, meaning that half of the states now forbid the so-called “agency shop.” Union bosses, activists, and union-funded politicians are taking the news about as well as would be expected, plumbing the depths of obscene references and insults, as the nonprofit MacIver Institute has chronicled here (mild content warning for obscene language).

    Now, the lack of decency goes all the way to the top. Vice President Joe Biden, speaking at the national convention of the International Association of Fire Fighters, criticized people who oppose the National Labor Relations Board’s recent “quickie election” labor favor in some very bold words:

    Biden denounced those blocking the National Labor Relations Board’s attempts “to enforce the basic rules of the road,” saying, “They’re not looking for striped shirts, guys. They’re looking for blackshirts, not referees.”


    The blackshirts were paramilitary forces loyal to the Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

    This comparison of sincere critics of Administration policies concocted to serve the President’s big-money union backers to war criminals can be expected from union bosses used to hyperbolic attacks on popular employee rights reforms. But a closer analysis reveals that the real assault on employee rights is coming not from those trying to hem in the NLRB’s overreach but from the Board itself. Consider the recent NLRB labor favors:

    • Forcing employees to hand over personal private telephone, email, and other contact information to union organizers and union bosses;
    • Accelerating election processes so that employees only hear the union side before voting; and
    • Opening the door for card-check unionization of chain restaurant workers through a questionable theory of “joint employment” with national brands that would overturn 35 years of legal precedent.

    These all empower union bosses at the expense of employees, making it easier for organizers to turn employees into dues payers. But on matters of discourse, Biden—and his supporters in Big Labor—should take some advice from a prominent person who spoke to Drake University students last month. That person said, “I want to be clear […] our opponents are not bad guys.” In short, he argued that people can disagree without being disagreeable.

    That person was Vice President Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActNLRBRight-to-Work
  7. Wisconsin Could Be a Tipping Point for Employee Rights

    Flickr-Photo-Download_-Help-Wanted...-1.jpgToday, Wisconsin became the 25th right-to-work state when Governor Scott Walker signed SB 44, which passed the Wisconsin Assembly last Friday. The measure, which prohibits the conditioning of employment on the payment of union dues or fees, means that half of the states now have laws prohibiting the so-called “union shop” or “agency shop.” This truly is a tipping point for employee rights.

    Additionally, with Wisconsin joining the ranks of the right to work states, about 48 percent of Americans—over 150 million people—live in right-to-work states. (If Missouri adopts right-to-work as it is considering doing, a majority would.) While unions and their political patrons ridiculously claim that right-to-work is a radical proposition that will kill your babies or lead to mass employee deaths, the widespread adoption of employee-empowering laws clearly shows that these predictions are more drama than fact. In truth, right-to-work states have higher rates of jobs growth.

    While these laws do not solve all the problems of union abuses, they are a symbolic move to put employees ahead of union bosses in the workplace. But now that employee rights are at a tipping point, it’s time for the federal government to stand up and bring American labor laws out of the 1940s. The Employee Rights Act (ERA), a package of seven (very popular) reforms proposed in the last Congress, would ensure employee privacy and protect employees against threats and intimidation.

    While right-to-work guarantees employees’ financial freedoms, ERA protects their freedom from coercion by unions, their freedom to make private decisions, and their freedom to refrain from giving personal private information to union bosses. While the Obama Administration expands union privilege, Congress has the opportunity to take a stand for employee rights. When ERA is reintroduced, members must make the effort to push for these common-sense measures or explain why they oppose individual freedom in the workplace.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActRight-to-Work
  8. Randi’s Pet Charter School Closes

    3409642414_a401c0d007.jpgBack in 2005, then-United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Randi Weingarten, now president of the national American Federation of Teachers (AFT), opened a (unionized) charter school in Brooklyn. She stated its purpose: “Our schools will show real, quantifiable student achievement and with those results, finally dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success.”

    Ten years later, the poor performance of the UFT charter school—one of the worst-rated in the city—suggests that the notion of union roadblocks to success wasn’t so “misguided and simplistic” after all.

    The UFT’s K-8 charter school announced this week that it is closing. That isn’t necessarily bad for the students: A review by the State University of New York Charter Institute, which sponsored the UFT’s charter application, found that the school had “poor” educational outcomes in the middle school grades.

    This poor grade wasn’t a fluke: The school had done poorly on previous city reviews. Chalkbeat reported in 2012:

    But seven years into its existence, the nation’s first union-run school is one of the lowest-performing schools in the city. Fewer than a third of students are reading on grade level, and the math proficiency rate among eighth-graders is less than half the city average.


    On the school’s most recent progress report, released last week, the [NYC] Department of Education gave it a D and ranked it even lower than one of its co-located neighbors, J.H.S. 166, which the city tried to close last year and now has shortlisted again for possible closure.

    There’s an important lesson here: Just calling a school a “charter school” doesn’t mean that it comes with the benefits charter advocates hope for. For real gains to be made, charter schools need the advantages in flexibility and competition they have over traditional district schools—advantages opposed by teachers unions. To the extent charter schools allow principals and administrators to engage in flexible decision making—including flexible decision making in human resources policy forbidden by union contracts—they are an improvement on traditional district schools. But as the AFT and the other national teachers union engage in campaigns to unionize the mostly union-free sector, charter advocates may shortly see that a crucial element to school success is keeping Randi and her minions away.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers Unions