Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

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  1. Will Wisconsin Be Number Twenty-Five?

    thumbs upBig news from the frozen tundra of Wisconsin: Legislators are calling a special session to advance a right-to-work measure. Following reforms permitting employees to refrain from funding unions in Indiana and Michigan, the state legislature has indicated that it will pass the measure and Governor Scott Walker has said he will sign it. Wisconsin would bring up the half-way mark for right-to-work laws, being the 25th state to ban so-called “agency shop” contracts requiring employees to fund labor unions in order to keep their jobs.

    Union bosses reeling from the effects of employee-empowering reforms to public-sector workplaces in the state are naturally outraged, with some activists calling for a French-style “general strike.” But with the law likely to pass over their hollering, what lies in store for labor in the Badger State? While union bosses claim imminent doom, the facts show that right-to-work offers unions a choice: Continue the status quo and suffer membership declines, or adopt a new model of representative unionism and preserve influence.

    Consider Nevada, which adopted a right-to-work law in the 1950s (and sustained it against multiple union-backed repeal efforts). Until Michigan passed right-to-work in 2012, Nevada was the most unionized right-to-work state, and the state remains highly unionized (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14.4 percent of Nevada workers are union members, good for the 11th most-union state). In short, since the unions in Nevada have convinced employees that union representation helps them, they haven’t suffered the declines that unions in the Midwest have. (It also helps that union demands haven’t helped drive the casino industry into bankruptcy, as happened with some Midwest manufacturing.)

    However, there are important employee rights that right-to-work laws don’t affect. Card-check will still be permitted, allowing unions to organize without a private vote. This matters because even though right-to-work allows nonmembers to refrain from funding the union, unions still have a privilege they demanded in federal labor law—exclusive representation, which requires all grievances and contract negotiation to go through the union. And if an employee wishes to get the union out, he or she would still need to follow the onerous and intimidation-laced decertification process, since an organized union has perpetual tenure.

    If employee rights advocates want to continue the momentum from Indiana, Michigan, and now Wisconsin, they should call for the federal Employee Rights Act, which takes a wider view of employee rights and restricting union privilege than right-to-work alone. Among other reforms, it requires secret ballot votes to unionize, protects employees against coercion when decertifying a union, and grants employees the periodic right to a vote on whether to keep an established union. Each of its reforms is supported by more than 75 percent of Americans and guarantees new rights to employees to bring employment relations—which haven’t been significantly updated since the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947—into the 21st Century.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActRight-to-WorkSEIU
  2. What Is One Union Hiding?

    ba planeThe Daily Caller got wind of a curious decision by Transportation Workers Union Local 577, which was certified in 2010 to represent flight attendants for Allegiant Air. Apparently, TWU 577 hasn’t been filing financial reports with the Office of Labor-Management Standards. The Caller reports:

    In the letter, which was obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation, the advocacy group Americans For Limited Government Research Foundation detailed to the U.S. Department of Labor that Local 577 of the Transport Workers has failed for years to disclose its financial records. Local 577 represents Allegiant Air flight attendants. […]


    “Whether a contract is ratified is irrelevant under the LMRDA when determining whether a local labor organization is covered by the Act,” [ALGRF President Nathan] Mehrens told TheDCNF. “If TWU didn’t want to follow the LMRDA’s requirements for local labor organizations, it should not have created Local 577.”

    Basically, the union got certified and then negotiations began, but the first contract has not yet been agreed. So TWU 577 remains the certified representative, but no contract is yet in force. TWU argues unconvincingly that this allows TWU’s national office to include Local 577’s expenses on its own reports.

    So why might a relatively ineffective union like TWU 577 (which, recall, hasn’t completed a contract negotiation despite having years to cut a deal) want to hide its expenditures? Simple: It might lead members to believe their dues money isn’t being used effectively. Our organization and others have caught the national American Federation of Teachers spending six figures on limousines, UNITE HERE channeling money to the mayoral campaign of a senior officer’s cousin, and the SEIU spending tens of millions Astroturfing campaigns against restaurants.

    And while it’s unlikely that TWU Local 577 would have anything of that nature to hide from prying eyes, local unions can have embarrassing open secrets too. Numerous union locals are largely controlled by members of the same family, and this can mean big bucks for the lucky clans. We can’t know what TWU 577 might be trying to obscure with its creative recordkeeping tactics, but union members deserve at the very least the transparency that federal law requires.

    Categories: Center for Union Facts
  3. An NPR ‘Miss’ On Labor Unions and the Minimum Wage

    CUFDinosaurA recent National Public Radio (NPR) report looked curiously at the phenomenon of unions pushing for radical minimum wage increases (including in some cases a more-than-doubling of the current minimums). Correspondent Ben Bergman notes that few workers who make the minimum are unionized, and he asks what unions stand to gain from their campaigns.

    We can help him figure that out. For one, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and similar unions for service workers like the hotel and restaurant divisions of Unite HERE have plenty of bargaining units with employees under, at, or around the proposed new minimum wage level. Others have guaranteed premiums over the statutory minimum, as we have detailed previously.

    Unions also have greener reasons to push massive wage hikes. The “fight for $15” worker center/minimum wage campaign is a multimillion-dollar project of SEIU, and the end goal includes paying off this “investment” with more union dues. As a result, in addition to minimum wage messaging the campaign comes with creating “Worker Organizing Committees” that file complaints with the National Labor Relations Board designed at least in part to make fast food restaurants easier to unionize. The Manhattan Institute estimated SEIU’s potential payoff from unionizing half of McDonald’s and McDonald’s franchise employees alone at $100 million per year.

    And if that doesn’t work, there’s another way to turn a doubled minimum wage into more union dues. Minimum wage and so-called “living wage” laws often contain exceptions for collective bargaining agreements. Maxford Nielson of the Freedom Foundation explains:

    Los Angeles became the latest to join the movement when the city council approved a law on Sept. 24 requiring large hotels to pay employees at least $15.37 per hour and provide generous paid sick-leave benefits. But the ordinance includes a provision, increasingly common in similar ordinances, that permits unions to waive the requirements in collective bargaining.


    This waiver enables labor organizers to approach a nonunion employer struggling to pay the new minimum with the following offer: assist them in unionizing employees by signing a “neutrality agreement,” in return for which the union will use the collective-bargaining waiver to allow the employer to pay less than the new statutory minimum.

    The only winners? The union bosses whose salaries keep flowing.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAnti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsChange To WinPolitical MoneySEIUUnion SpendingWorkers Center
  4. Union Strike Threatens Cheap Gas, Ambulance Services Might Be Next

    fistsYou may have noticed that the price of gasoline has plummeted recently. Good news, right? Well, not if you’re the United Steelworkers (USW): The union just walked out on strike at nine oil industry facilities in Texas. The Houston Chronicle quotes an employment lawyer noting that USW’s strategy seems lacking:

    The strike could be a way the union is sending a message to its members that it’s doing something proactive, said A. Kevin Troutman, an employment lawyer with Fisher & Phillips in Houston. But he questioned the timing.


    “It’s not a great time for the union to strike,” Troutman said, referring to the recent and dramatic fall in oil prices. “Companies don’t have the money like they once did and are more likely to dig in their heels.”

    While the struck oil companies (which include Shell, the firm leading the all-industry management negotiating team) expect to be able to maintain output, a protracted strike might hit consumers square in the pocketbook. Still, it could be worse:

    Southwest Ambulance employees have authorized a strike if final negotiations between its union and Rural/Metro Corp. over employee benefits fail.


    The local I-60 chapter of the International Fire Fighters Association, representing about 800 employees, voted in favor of having the strike as an option to settle the years-long dispute with its parent company over retirement benefits, longevity pay and overtime.

    In short, an ambulance service employees union in Arizona has now formally issued a threat to strike, come what may to the sick. It’s one thing when union demands threaten your on-time flight arrival or risk an unexpected spike in fuel prices; striking against the public safety is another issue entirely (as politicians once recognized).

    Big Labor’s decline in numbers and relevance has sent Richard Trumka and his fellow union bosses looking toward a militant past for a rebirth. They have stormed state capitols, struck against children’s educations, and demanded small businesses accede to their political agendas. While we haven’t heard about unions leaving the dead unburied yet, don’t be surprised if desperate bosses resort to desperate measures to rally their flagging numbers of dues-paying members.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union Facts
  5. Despite Government Efforts, Union Density Slips Further

    CUFDinosaurIn December, a reporter for Politico proposed that a series of Obama Administration actions were proof of “Labor’s big comeback.” We were skeptical, to say the least: Year after year of reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that an ever-shrinking percent of employees bother to actually join unions.

    Now we can add another data point to the trend. The “union density”—the proportion of employees who are union members—declined again this year, reaching 11.1 percent of the workforce. This is the lowest level recorded by the BLS since it began collecting union membership data in 1983.

    Union bosses and their supporters view this as evidence of a legal environment skewed against unions. President Obama vowed, “We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give American workers a voice.” Unfortunately, labor’s idea of giving employees a “voice” involves government-mandated “quickie” elections procedures designed to give unions more dues-paying members with as little information as possible.

    If unions are really going to have a comeback, it won’t be from government regulators. After all , workplace organizing is still governed by the same 1947 law under which unions had their heyday. Big Labor will need to change its sixties-era sales pitch and come back with a model that speaks to the 21st-century workforce.

    When government-granted monopolies on dues payment are lifted, as they were for all workers in Michigan and for public-sector workers in Wisconsin, many union members bail on their old bosses.

    In 2011, for instance, Wisconsin enacted Act 10, a major labor reform affecting public sector workers. With union power circumscribed, many employees have taken advantage of newfound freedoms and left the union. The Wisconsin State Council of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has seen a steep membership decline — as seen in the chart below from the database of Labor Department filings — since that law was passed. The labor reforms won the support of the Badger State, and despite much union wailing Gov. Scott Walker and legislators who backed the reforms were mostly re-elected. The state Supreme Court also upheld the reforms.

    AFSCME WI Chart

    The Employee Rights Act (ERA), a reform package offered by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Tom Price in the last Congress, proposes several widely supported reforms to union practices that enable individual employees to express their views in the workplace. By ensuring secret ballot votes to unionize, strike, and periodically reauthorize existing unions, ERA would make sure that union organizers cannot mislead or intimidate employees in expressing their views on unionization. Legislators should look to state-level examples like Wisconsin and Michigan and advance labor reform that will give employees a real voice.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFSCMECenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActSEIU
  6. Hypocritical “Union Shop” Flails in Defense of Union Funding

    moneythumbWe recently questioned the timing of the Center for Media and Democracy’s decision to allow itself to directly take funding from unions. A reporter with contacted CMD head Lisa Graves for comment, and received a curious reply. We’ll let Watchdog explain:

    Graves called the undisclosed union donations “a small percent of its overall funding.” […]


    “After I became the leader of CMD, we began a review of our policies and practices, and it was my view that the Supreme Court was wrong in Citizens United to equate corporations and unions and that the old policy reinforced that so we changed it,” she said of the landmark court decision that lifted campaign finance restrictions.

    Graves’s view seems to be that using union money for political advocacy is OK while using business money isn’t, just because she says so. This stinks of rank hypocrisy, and Graves’s pathetic deflections show just how weak and self-serving her position is.

    It’s also undeniably false that unions provide “a small percent of [CMD] funding.” Department of Labor disclosures by unions (the only way we could figure out that CMD gets union funding) reported $118,000 in itemized union payments to CMD in 2013. That was about 14% of the organization’s contribution and grant revenue, according to tax returns.

    And what about Graves’s defense on the timing of CMD’s union support flip-flop? Well, it doesn’t seem to match the facts. Graves took over CMD in 2009, and the union funding policy didn’t change until very late 2010. The timing of the “final decision” remains very, very suspicious.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFSCMECenter for Union FactsPolitical MoneySEIU
  7. Detroit AFT Chooses Radical Path

    detroitIn 2010, the Chicago local of Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers (AFT) was taken over by its most radical caucus (led by left-wing union boss Karen Lewis). The result was a citywide teachers’ strike in 2012 that shuttered classes and inconvenienced parents for over a week, even as Chicago public schools continue to struggle.

    Unfortunately for parents, taxpayers, and moderate-minded teachers, Detroit’s AFT local has decided that Chicago’s radical experiment would be perfect to emulate. In a runoff election for President of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT), radical Steve Conn defeated the relatively more moderate Edna Reaves, an ally of the outgoing union president Keith Johnson, by fifteen votes. The Detroit News reports that these developments worry Johnson:

    “I’m gravely concerned about the future of this union. Steve has a single answer to everything and that is strike, walk out, protest. He doesn’t understand that whether you disagree with someone or dislike them, you still have to work with them to move this district forward.” […]


    “The only saving grace we may have is that the rest of the officers and board members are reasonable people and they will not allow (Conn) and his personal agenda to destroy the union.

    For his part, new President Conn has vowed to “stand up” against “so-called reformers.” Meanwhile, the Detroit school district remains in administration under a state-appointed emergency manager, and Detroit students perform worst of any major city school district in the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s Trial Urban District Assessment.

    The city schools are in a longstanding crisis, and the teachers union has chosen radicalism, strikes, and protests over partnering for necessary reforms. Detroit’s history of repeated teacher strikes—a total of four work stoppages from 1979-1992 with the longest walkout lasting four weeks—is  hardly cause for optimism. Unless the supposed “moderates” can keep the new, radical leadership of DFT in line, expect the education debate in the Motor City to get much nastier rather than more productive.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers Unions
  8. Anti-Walker Group Changed No-Union-Funds Rule Just After 2010 Elections

    The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) is a left-wing organization that is a critical cog in the Wisconsin liberal-progressive infrastructure network. The group has taken significant funding from major labor unions in recent years—in 2013, $118,000 in identifiable union expenditures to CMD amounted to 13.6% of the organization’s contribution and grant revenue.

    Prior to Republican victories in Wisconsin in 2010 that led to Gov. Scott Walker’s reforms to public-sector collective bargaining, CMD stated that it did not take union funds. But according to a Center for Union Facts analysis of the Internet Archive cache, CMD reversed its position on accepting union funds almost immediately after Walker won election to the Wisconsin governor’s mansion and Republicans won control of both houses of the state legislature.

    CMD, which criticizes conservative groups for a lack of transparency, does not disclose this union funding in its annual IRS filings or on its website.


    CMD claims to be an advocate for transparency and openness in government and reduced special-interest (specifically business) influence; to that end, the group asserts, “CMD does NOT accept grants from corporations or government agencies.”

    This does not mean that CMD receives most of its support from grassroots supporters: According to an analysis of the organization’s 2013 tax return which was recently filed, CMD’s six largest ($25,000 or more) contributors — which appear to include the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union — account for 72% of CMD’s grant and contribution revenue.

    CMD once had a more restrictive contributions policy, proudly asserting as recently as 2010 that it “does NOT accept corporate, labor union or government grants.” In a 2009 posting for the group’s top job, the organization claimed, “CMD does not accept grants from corporations, labor unions or government agencies,” as in the screenshot below.

    CMD boss jobAnalysis

    Using the Internet Archive “Wayback Machine,” which caches pages on the internet, we can determine when Center for Media and Democracy changed its stated position on its “Financial Supporters” page (which no longer exists, having been rolled into an “About Us” page).

    As of the publication of this brief, CMD — which purports to accept “donations from individuals and philanthropic foundations through gifts and grants” and lists what it purports to be a list of past and current foundation funders — does not explicitly acknowledge that it receives significant funding from labor unions. The screenshot below shows CMD’s “disclosure” of funders as of December 2014.

    CMD funders claimedConspicuously absent are the three international labor unions known to fund CMD: AFSCME, AFL-CIO, and SEIU.

    In 2010, the Wayback archives show two captures of the “funders” page after the November 4 elections (which flipped “trifecta” control of Wisconsin state government from Democratic to Republican). The November 26th capture has the following text:

    1126 CMD funding statement

    On December 20, that had changed to the following:

    1220 CMD funding statement

    The statement that CMD would not take money from labor unions quietly disappeared. It is unknown precisely why this occurred, although the closeness to the 2010 elections cannot be ignored. A Google search of the Center’s website ( shows almost no mention of Gov. Walker prior to January 1, 2011. By February of that year, CMD released a lengthy “special report” on the Governor’s relationship with a conservative foundation.

    By no later than May 2012, CMD was receiving significant sums from the AFL-CIO, according to Department of Labor filings. It is possible that CMD received union funding closer to the time it changed its stated policy: Under the 1959 Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act which governs DoL filings, only national union federations and unions with private-sector nonagricultural members must file financial disclosures. The Wisconsin Education Association Council (Wisconsin’s NEA affiliate and largest teachers’ union), for example, is exempt from such reporting.

    AFLCIO CMD 2012

    Since that time, CMD has additionally received funds from AFSCME and SEIU, in addition to subsequent money from the AFL-CIO.

    Concluding Remarks

    CMD claims to represent a grassroots progressive liberalism opposed to business-backed conservatism. However, its funding indicates that it carries out the agenda of liberal special interests—environmentalist and left-wing foundations and public sector labor unions like AFSCME and SEIU. This tie into the Democratic network grew after two events: the appointment of former Clinton Administration and Pat Leahy aide Lisa Graves to head CMD in 2010 and the election of Scott Walker as Governor of Wisconsin in November of that year.

    The evidence clearly shows that whatever was keeping CMD from taking union contributions while Wisconsin was governed by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, it was not principle.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFSCMECenter for Union FactsPolitical MoneySEIUUnion Spending