Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

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  1. Unions’ Weird Old Survival Trick Coming to a Congress Near You

    CUFDinosaurAn MSNBC report indicates that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) intends to introduce legislation to make union organizing a “civil right.” While Ellison’s legislative language has not yet been introduced, he expressed the desire to make it easier for pro-union employees who felt that their rights were violated to sue their employers.

    Current law already allows employees to file for back wages and reinstatement through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) process. Ellison’s additionwill do little but encourage lawsuits to tie up the union organizing process—leading to violations of employee rights through card-checks, as employers figure dealing with unions will be cheaper than fighting perpetual litigation by unions. The AFL-CIO, which has backed the “civil right” notion, will undoubtedly be over the moon.

    The idea of making union organizing a “civil right” was teased as the one weird old trick that will save labor from its decades-long decline after two writers at The Century Foundation published a book (and an accompanying New York Times op-ed) proposing it in 2012. It got a bit of play among the Occupy Wall Street (remember that?) crowd and union professionals, but didn’t appear to go much of anywhere.

    That isn’t too surprising—the writers first pitched the idea around the turn of the millennium  with a reprise in 2004. Perhaps the “civil right” notion isn’t getting traction because it’s bad policy—employers already face sanctions for violating the rights of employees who want to unionize, and this additional step is just a hand-out for union bosses. The idea is even unpopular: In 2012, a referendum to create a constitutional right to collective bargaining failed in the union stronghold of Michigan, even as the state was handily re-electing President Obama. (Labor’s overreach probably contributed to Michigan becoming the 24th Right-to-Work state.)

    If codifying an obligation to be harassed by Big Labor failed in the union heartland, it looks like the public have a different view of labor rights than Rep. Ellison and the Century Foundation writers. Indeed, Americans—including comfortable majorities of union households—support fixing the imbalances between unions and individual employees. The Employee Rights Act, which contains seven major reforms including a provision guaranteeing secret ballot votes on whether to form a union, would correct these imbalances. Recent national polling suggests that these provisions are quite popular amongst Americans, with the seven reforms each receiving 80 percent or greater support.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights Act
  2. Unions Negotiating with NYC Fill Mayor’s Slush Fund

    crime money steal embezzle 2Earlier this year, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT)—an affiliate of Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—got almost all that it wanted—including billions of dollars in “back pay”—in its negotiations with New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio over a new contract.

    UFT heavily backed de Blasio’s election with $250,000 in “independent expenditures” on his behalf, so it’s not surprising that the new mayor would want to repay his supporters handsomely. But reporting by Crain’s New York Business suggests that the pay-off for this sweetheart deal went well beyond campaign contributions: The national AFT gave the Campaign for One New York, a 501(c)(4) lobbying group run by de Blasio’s campaign manager, $350,000 one month before the UFT deal was sealed.

    AFT claims the donation was part of the union’s longstanding support of government-funded pre-kindergarten, but the timing is highly questionable. (De Blasio administration officials denied any impropriety to Crain’s.) The director of NYC good-government watchdog Citizens’ Union told the New York Post: “To have a newly elected mayor start a nonprofit organization to support his big initiative — and then go calling for dollars from those who are involved in the city’s business — is unseemly.”

    There’s another interesting nexus at the Campaign for One New York: That between Berlin Rosen—the people behind the “worker center” fast food and retail corporate campaigns—and the NYC Mayor’s Office. Berlin Rosen ran de Blasio’s election campaign and now runs P.R. for the Campaign for One New York. There’s a reason UFT, UNITE-HERE (in a highly controversial and possibly illegal manner), and other labor unions (including the SEIU) back de Blasio—his people are their people.

    Categories: AFTCenter for Union FactsPolitical MoneyTeachers Unions
  3. Teachers Union Fighting Campaign Disclosure

    crime money steal embezzle 1Teachers unions in Massachusetts have tried before to obscure their involvement in political races: The Boston Teachers Union (BTU), an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) led by Randi Weingarten, was criticized by the Boston Globe for a shady political scheme designed to elect BTU’s favored mayoral candidate.

    Now, Massachusetts legislators are trying to curb this sort of behavior by requiring SuperPACs like the one used by BTU and AFT to report their donors more frequently and in text on television advertisements. Despite employing so-called “dark money” networks of their own (like BTU/AFT’s), teachers union leaders have been at the forefront of efforts to restrict the influence of these so-called “dark money” groups. Whether or not the Massachusetts rule is actually good policy, it stands to reason that the union should be supportive of this proposal.

    But guess who isn’t happy about Massachusetts’ proposed rules: It’s a union! According to a Boston Globe report, The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s National Education Association (NEA) affiliate, is lobbying to strip at least one disclosure provision from the bill citing “technical issues.” Uh huh. As the Globe notes, MTA recently created its own SuperPAC to support its favored candidates in state elections, and the group spent $2.75 million in 2010 to re-elect Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick.

    That an NEA group would try to block rules designed to combat the hiding of donors until after the election isn’t terribly surprising: The national union’s Executive Director was recently appointed Chairman of the left-wing money clearinghouse Democracy Alliance’s board. Either way, MTA’s recent lobbying is yet another indication that unions’ purported opposition to money in politics applies only to money they aren’t spending themselves.

    Categories: AFTCenter for Union FactsNEAPolitical MoneyTeachers Unions
  4. For Big Labor, Is Politics More Important than College?

    fist1Among the adversaries of labor unions’ politics and power plays, few inspire quite as much hatred from union bosses as libertarian businessmen-philanthropists Charles and David Koch. Unions have fought desperately against the Kochs’ efforts to fund pro-business candidates and causes, even when it traps them in hypocrisy when they buddy up with left-wing financiers (see: American Federation of Teachers President and Democracy Alliance member Randi Weingarten).

    But unions are also fighting the Kochs’ general philanthropy efforts. After David Koch donated $100 million to a cancer hospital in his home city of New York, for instance, the New York State Nurses Association and SEIU Local 1199 responded by marching on the hospital in protest. And having implicitly rejected cancer research, unions are now implicitly rejecting college for African American youth: The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees has retaliated against the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) taking a donation from the Kochs by breaking its own support for the group.

    Since 2003, AFSCME had partnered with the UNCF on the “Union Scholars Program,” which offered students at UNCF member institutions partial scholarships and assistance and stipends for internships with AFSCME, all for a cost of roughly $54,500 per year from AFSCME dues.

    When the project began, then-AFSCME president Gerald McEntee was highly pleased by the arrangement, saying:

    “AFSCME has always worked hard to create a brighter, more just, and decent future for the children of working men and women… Given that philosophy, it seemed only natural that we should partner with the United Negro College Fund, which has etched indelibly in our minds the axiom, ‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste.’”

    Apparently, AFSCME doesn’t have a problem with a few minds being wasted in order to make a political point.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFSCMECenter for Union Facts
  5. Desperate UAW Digs in for Chattanooga Fight

    Class Election kidsIf you thought that a defeat for a union in a unionization election was the end of Big Labor’s efforts, you’d be wrong. Volkswagen plant workers who told the United Auto Workers to get packing are about to learn this, as the union has created a local to “represent” the workers despite the employees’ clear decision against unionizing.

    The union claims participation will be “voluntary” and that a request for formal bargaining will not be issued until a majority of workers join the union. Does this sound familiar? It should—UAW officials just described an attempt at card check.

    Volkswagen officials haven’t announced if they would recognize a card check, but if UAW sneak in by the back door after losing a secret-ballot vote it would be an illustration of everything wrong with union selection under current labor law: The idea that public card signatures secured under conditions of potential intimidation more accurately reflect employees’ views than votes cast in the privacy of a voting booth is simply ludicrous.

    More importantly, the union only has to “win”—whether by ballot or by card-check—once, then it essentially lasts forever. (Unions faced only 202 decertification elections in 2013, according to the National Labor Relations Board.) There is no provision for employees to periodically scrutinize their unions with a re-certification election under current law, even if most of the employees in a bargaining unit didn’t participate in the initial certification. A 2012 analysis by CUF of NLRB and Census data found that up to 92 percent of unionized employees hadn’t voted to unionize, largely because of union perpetuity.

    Both of these infringements on employee rights would be corrected by a pending piece of federal legislation, the Employee Rights Act (ERA). Currently before Congress with 27 co-sponsors in the Senate and 99 in the House of Representatives, the ERA would require re-certification after half the initial voting employees left the bargaining unit and would require all union votes be by secret ballot. It may come too late for Volkswagen employees trying to stay out of the clutches of the “United Obama Workers” (as a billboard called the UAW), but ERA would restore balance between union special privileges and employee rights.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActUAW
  6. Randi’s Union Too Far for the Washington Post

    3409642414_a401c0d007.jpgWe noted a growing schism between teachers unions and their formerly reliable Democratic Party allies recently. Add another usual Big Labor backer saying Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has gone too far: The Washington Post editorial board — which had demanded a “compromise” card-check bill in 2009 — is not happy with the obstinacy of AFT’s D.C. local, the Washington Teachers Union (WTU):

    Giving public school students more instruction time is a priority of D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson. She set aside $5.1 million in next year’s budget for the effort. But, as The Post’s Emma Brown reported, the union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, is blocking the initiative by urging teachers not to approve the change and by preventing the issue from coming to a vote.


    Let’s emphasize that last point: The union that is supposed to represent the interest of teachers won’t allow a vote in which teachers would decide for themselves, school by school, if they want a longer school day that would benefit students and for which they would be paid. A provision in the teachers’ contract, which expired in 2012 but is in force until a new agreement is reached, allows individual schools to adopt nontraditional scheduling if two-thirds of teachers approve.

    Similar to the SEIU’s “don’t vote” plan for a Las Vegas hospital workers’ contract, WTU won’t let its members take votes authorized by the D.C. collective bargaining agreement to extend the school day. The Post editors fear that decision might hurt students and teachers.

    The Post additionally reports that the union president says WTU is “being cautious not to be [a roadblock] to reform,” which only leads one to ask what the union might unleash if it tried to block reform openly. If Washington’s AFT looks anything like the national union, those efforts might include blocking new charter schools, fighting to reverse teacher accountability reforms, or lashing out at political leaders who fix pensions that could bankrupt states or cities. History — the WTU famously unmade respected former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s political patron, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, in 2010 — doesn’t suggest that the union will behave any differently.

    As much as Randi might complain about Democrats like former Obama aides Robert Gibbs and Ben LaBolt — to say nothing of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who called the recent Vergara v. California decision that vitiated that state’s coddling teacher tenure laws “a mandate” — siding with reformers against archaic teacher union-backed work rules, the ship of reform has sailed. Efforts like WTU’s no-vote policy are going to get rightly criticized from all sides.

    Categories: AFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers Unions
  7. Postal Unions Choose Status Quo over Customer-Friendly Reforms

    CUFDinosaurThe United States Postal Service (USPS), like many unionized organizations, loses money hand-over-fist and is saddled with unsustainable labor costs. In an effort to increase usage of USPS services and lower labor costs, the Postal Service is placing self-service kiosks in Staples stores. It’s a win for customers and taxpayers: Who could have a problem with that? The American Postal Workers Union (APWU), which has loudly objected to USPS’s kiosk-based effort to save itself.

    Though it’s a transparent effort to protect an indefensible status quo, the APWU has hilariously claimed that it has customers’ interests in mind. For instance, APWU says people shouldn’t trust Staples kiosks because Staples employees haven’t “taken an oath to protect the sanctity of the mail.” But this oath didn’t stop a Georgia postal employee from stealing $3.5 million in U.S. Treasury checks, a Colorado employee from nicking goods estimated at $283,913 in value, or a Baltimore postal worker from stealing $78,000 in USPS money orders, including by fraudulently issuing them to herself, relatives, and others.

    In fact, some APWU officials can’t even protect the “sanctity” of their members’ money: Since January 1 of last year, five onetime officers of APWU locals have been charged, convicted, or sentenced for embezzlement or related crimes. One of them, a Long Island local president, pleaded guilty to grand larceny and was sentenced to one to three years in prison.

    APWU has put out the call to other unions to join its ill-informed campaign in boycotting Staples until the retailer drops the kiosk deal, and local and state councils of Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers are hopping on APWU’s bandwagon. (The national union is expected to consider formally endorsing the boycott at its upcoming general convention.) Of course, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that teachers unions—which for years have defended teacher work rules that disadvantage students—would back a scheme that favors unions and hurts customers.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTAnti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsCrime & CorruptionTeachers Unions
  8. SCOTUS Strikes Down $30 Million SEIU Scheme

    healthcare workerYesterday, the Supreme Court struck down a major Service Employees International Union (SEIU) scheme to stanch the decline in workforce unionization. The high court ruled that SEIU could not require participants in an Illinois state Medicaid program to pay non-members’ representational fees (agency fees) to SEIU.

    The deal to unionize so-called “home health care workers”—including family members who care for disabled children, spouses, and parents—was cut between SEIU and then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who received roughly $1.9 million in campaign contributions from SEIU before going to federal prison for corruption. Illinois declared caregivers for mentally disabled Medicaid recipients to be state employees eligible for unionization under the state’s public-employee union law, which allows compelled non-member fees since Illinois is not a right to work state. The Supreme Court saw through this scheme, finding that home caregivers weren’t really public employees and therefore ineligible to be forced to pay agency fees.

    SEIU has similar “dues skim” setups in eight other states. In total, something on the order of a half-million home-care providers are required to pay dues to SEIU (or the AFL-CIO’s public employee constituent, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees or AFSCME). And if the example of Michigan—which abolished its “dues skim” in 2012—is any indication, SEIU could be in for a major hit to the pocketbook. After contributions to the union became voluntary, membership in SEIU Healthcare Michigan plummeted from over 55,000 to less than 11,000. Revenues fell by $4.1 million.

    Court documents indicate that SEIU Healthcare Illinois, the beneficiary local of the state’s dues skim, stands to lose $3.6 million in revenue if all 20,000 or so members subject to the forced fees arrangement quit the union. If one assumes that all 400,000 home healthcare “members” of SEIU are paying comparable dues ($100-$200 per year on average) and the Supreme Court ruling is found to apply to them, the SEIU at all levels could be out as much as $80 million.

    That might be a debit to the SEIU’s power, but it’s most certainly a credit to employee rights.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsPolitical MoneyRight-to-WorkSEIU