Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

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  1. SEIU’s Amazing Brazilian Adventure

    ba planeWhile doing some analysis of how the  Service Employees International Union spends members dues, one item struck us as very odd: SEIU spent $328,000 in 2014 on “legal support for organizing” from a Brazilian law firm, Piza Avogados Associados. (The union has shipped $389,429 in total to the firm over the last four years.)

    That’s a significant amount of money for legal help in a country where SEIU has no bargaining units. But the union is hoping for a big return on its legal investment: The evidence suggests that it’s part of the same campaign against chain restaurants that has played out in the United States.

    Here’s the backstory. Piza Avogados Associados specializes (according to its English-language website) in “union rights,” among other things. Among those efforts are advocating for unions before Brazil’s analog to the National Labor Relations Board, called the Justiça do Trabalho or Labor Court. Newspaper reports in Brazil and the United States show Piza attorneys speaking to the media about and filing labor court complaints against McDonald’s Brazilian operations.

    Meanwhile, as part of the so-called “Fast Food Strikes,” the SEIU has begun an expensive harassment campaign against Arcos Dorados—the largest McDonald’s franchise in Brazil. The SEIU’s pension funds (CtW Investment Group) which own stock in Arcos are calling for the company to be taken off the stock exchange.  There’s also evidence that SEIU’s political consultants—the controversial and well-paid NYC P.R. shop Berlin Rosen—are also involved in the Brazilian effort. A blog post on a franchise industry news blog credits Berlin Rosen with taking (or otherwise providing) photographs of a union demonstration against the company in Sao Paulo.

    Now, the SEIU-funded Center for American Progress Action Fund, through its ThinkProgress website, reports that  the SEIU and allied Brazilian trade unions—one of which, the CNTSS, received $20,000 in “support for organizing” expenditures from SEIU—will soon receive a hearing in the Brazilian Senate to make more complaints against Arcos Dorados.

    The penalties are nothing to sneeze at:

    Brazil’s labor courts “could impose fines as high as an eye-popping 30 percent of the company’s sales revenue and prohibit Arcos Dorados from opening new locations in the country until it proves it has come into compliance with workplace laws.”

    What’s the possible prize here? Arcos controls, either as operator or sub-franchisor, over 100 McDonald’s outlets in the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, where SEIU would like to organize workers. SEIU can essentially use a worldwide corporate campaign in countries where unions are more powerful than in the U.S. (and the governments are more corrupt) to force Arcos to concede to SEIU unionization of its employees by the intimidatory “card check” procedure in Puerto Rico.

    Notably, Arcos operations in Puerto Rico also play into the SEIU and NLRB plan to declare franchisors “joint employers,” since the company franchises many of the Puerto Rican McDonald’s outlets to other operators. One of them, Jose Quijano–a collaborator in SEIU’s bizarre franchisee-union partnership–was discovered speaking to the media on an SEIU-orchestrated conference call promoting the SEIU’s Federal Trade Commission challenge to essentially all franchisor/franchisee agreements.

    Ultimately, the Brazilian attack on McDonald’s/Arcos Dorados is a sideshow to the main event of the corporate campaign to unionize fast food. But it shows that SEIU will go to essentially the ends of the Earth in the pursuit of more compulsory union members and their money.

    Categories: Change To WinSEIUUnion Spending
  2. Union President Pay Watch, 2015

    moneyLast week, the AFL-CIO released its annual report that claims to compare how much average employees make compared to business chief executives. The union federation alleged that CEOs make over 300 times what the “average worker” makes.

    Mark Perry at the American Enterprise Institute, among others, has chronicled the numerous flaws with this argument. Unions get their absurd comparisons by cherry-picking only the S&P 500 executives to represent all CEOs to juice their final number. This would be like picking only major league professional athletes to represent the “average worker” – choosing the highest-compensated non-representative group possible.

    The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) compiles data on how much people who do different jobs make each year. In 2014 (the most recent available year), BLS found that the 246,240 “chief executives” made an average salary of $180,700. That’s no small amount of money, but it’s not the millions that the AFL-CIO touts in its press releases.

    And what’s even most interesting is that the union doesn’t seem to care so much about pay discrepancies when it comes to its own. Many union presidents are paid more than the average chief executive, as befits the leader of an organization handling millions of dollars in (often forced) dues money. All told, 162 union presidents, executive presidents, or general presidents were paid more than $180,700 in gross salary alone in 2014 union fiscal years, according to Department of Labor records. Add in other officers like secretary-treasurer and vice presidents, and the number grows.

    The top ten best-paid union presidents (not including those who retired mid-year and presumably took deferred compensation) by gross salary are:


    The AFL-CIO’s “PayWatch” includes all compensation for S&P 500 executives, not just salaries. And not surprisingly, union bosses also cash in on expense accounts and other compensation. The top ten total pay packages (again, excluding union presidents who retired) are below:

    Richard Trumka wants the public to compare the pay of the people who run major, multi-national companies like Coca-Cola, Lockheed Martin, and Yahoo with the teenager who scans groceries at the checkout counter. It’s an economically illiterate comparison—it takes a particular set of very refined skills and knowledge to manage a multinational corporation, while almost anyone with a pulse can scan groceries. In fact, it also takes a unique sets of skills to run a labor union, and union bosses would surely argue that they’re being compensated fairly. The difference is that union bosses are paid from mostly compelled dues rather than the revenues generated from voluntary commercial customers.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAnti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsGolf and Other Necessities
  3. Want to Kill a City? Ask Unions.

    StreetPhotos-125 2Recently, Baltimore, Maryland was racked by days of protests that surged into one night of violent rioting after a man died under suspicious circumstances—ruled by prosecutors to be an alleged criminal homicide—while in police custody.

    The focus on the city led many, including The Wall Street Journal’s William Galston, to ask why Baltimore has remained relatively poor while cities like Pittsburgh that suffered mid-century economic declines have recovered. Less attention has been paid to how both Pittsburgh and Baltimore got there in the first place—and as our Executive Director responds in today’s Journal, unions bear much of the blame:

    I should know—as a former labor lawyer in the steel industry, I witnessed some of labor unions’ worst excesses firsthand. Wedded to unsustainable pension schemes and rigid work rules, organized labor had no real answer to the new economic world beyond cutting America off from it.

    Steel industry unions aren’t the only Big Labor culprits in Baltimore’s decline and failure to recover. Some commentators have pointed to police union efforts to protect officers under criminal investigation from accountability as contributing to the hostility between the public and the police. Baltimore’s unionized public school system—which has teachers represented by Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers—has largely failed to educate the city’s children, despite high per-student spending. And that’s not to say that Pittsburgh is out of the labor woods. The SEIU is pushing to unionize the Steel City’s largest employer (the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center)—by an undemocratic card-check process where private ballot elections are bypassed.  If Baltimore and Pittsburgh want to get and stay out of the economic doldrums, they’ll need to redouble efforts to solicit private investment. There is a reason for business declines in some areas while growing in others. And it isn’t just the weather.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers Unions
  4. NLRB Judgment Adds to Machinists’ Woes

    shockedThey say that “April showers bring May flowers,” but the forecast for the International Association of Machinists (IAM) continues to be overcast.

    After an April that left the union’s organizing campaign at Delta referred to the Justice Department for allegedly forged authorization cards and saw the union pull its petition for a union election at Boeing in South Carolina, a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge (ALJ) just added to their misery.

    The judge ruled that IAM District 70 and Local Lodge 839 committed an unfair labor practice against a political opponent of the lodge leadership. A union shop representative forwarded some footage of the opponent’s traffic accident to the employer, leading to the opponent being fired. After the opponent responded to being fired by trying to help oust the union leadership, the shop representative threw in some threats for good measure. Law360 reports:

    “As they proceeded to engage in a serious case of trash talk, Johnson defied Kastens by telling him to ‘shut up before I beat your a**’ and he would see that Kastens was not reinstated by the company,” Wednesday’s ruling said.


    The threat by Johnson, a “statutory agent” of the union, to harm Kastens, undermine the processing of his termination grievances and impede his efforts to get reinstated ran afoul of the National Labor Relations Act, Judge Rosas said. The union, by Johnson, violated the law, the ruling said.

    The failure of union democracy at IAM Local 839/District 70 is only the latest illustration that the old model has been corrupted to the benefits of incumbent union officers’ private agendas. A new vehicle for allowing employees to express their views on the union is needed. Recertification, which would require unions to periodically show that they maintain majority support, is an option to truly empower employees.

    When the Employee Rights Act (which includes a recertification provision) is reintroduced, Congress should act upon it.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActNLRBViolence
  5. Poll: Union Approval Remains Low

    Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 6.30Unions trade on claims of their wide public support, but even those boasts are getting narrower and narrower. A few labor flacks touted the findings of a recently released Pew Research Center poll about Americans’ views on unions, but in truth it mostly bears bad news for the union movement.

    Unions’ favorability, a clear majority in the late 1990s and early 2000s, has now fallen to 48 percent. Americans are nearly evenly divided over whether the longstanding decline in union power is good for the country: Only 45 percent say it has been harmful. The results echo the findings of Gallup, which has shown a 22-point collapse in union approval from 1950s-era highs to modern lows.

    Union bosses are nailing their hopes to demographic changes, touting a finding that young people favor unions more highly than their elders. But a closer look at the numbers suggests that might actually be a problem, because young people aren’t joining unions in any large numbers. Bureau of Labor Statistics data on how many employees of various ages are union members shows that the rate of unionization among working-age (16-64 year-old) people closely tracks their age—meaning that younger workers are least likely to be union members, and those about to reach retirement age are most likely.


    Perhaps familiarity with Big Labor really does breed contempt. The older employees more likely to be unionized (often because their jobs had been unionized before they were hired) saw the corruption first-hand, with unions guilty of misdeeds ranging from the Teamsters’ infiltration by the Mafia, the embezzlement of $4.6 million by Washington Teachers Union officials, to corruption in the union-controlled Union Labor Life Insurance Company. Those who weren’t in unions read those headlines and saw the effects of the unions’ activities, like trash piling up in the streets of New York during a 1981 strike.

    With Trumka’s AFL-CIO beginning a push for a replacement to the failed card-check bill, and the SEIU continuing its high-profile drive to unionize fast-food employees, a whole new generation of employees will now have a chance to learn why their elders disliked unions in the first place.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union Facts
  6. Machinists’ Union Troubles Prove Need for Secret Ballot Votes

    89693158The International Association of Machinists (IAM) has had a lousy month. Two major organizing campaigns by the 569,000-member union have hit serious stumbling blocks, and the manner of flop demonstrates the need for the Employee Rights Act’s federal protection of secret ballot votes on whether to form a union.

    First, the IAM’s effort to organize flight attendants at Delta Airlines was withdrawn from the National Mediation Board (airlines are covered by the Railway Labor Act, not the typical private-sector National Labor Relations Act). That’s bad enough, but it got worse when the NMB referred the union authorization cards to the Department of Justice, stating that the board “has reason to believe that some unknown person or persons knowingly submitted authorization cards with fraudulent signatures in a possible violation of federal law.”

    The best-case scenario for the IAM now is a one-year hiatus in the campaign; the worst case is a federal trial. Either way, it’s clear that public authorization cards were compromised, rendering them a poor gauge of the true support for the union.

    While it attempted to organize Delta flight attendants, IAM had also filed for an election to unionize Boeing employees at the plane maker’s South Carolina assembly plant. (Yes, it’s the same plant that the IAM and then-NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon sought to prevent Boeing from assembling jetliners at back in 2011.) But by the end of the month, the IAM had to acknowledge another defeat, as it withdrew its petition for election for lack of support. The organizing effort is now stalled for at least six more months.

    Unions prefer so-called “card check” agreements that deny employees a secret ballot and demand shorter “quickie” election timelines to wrong-foot employers. But these recent events are a clear illustration that only a secret ballot vote can secure employees’ ability to make their true feelings known. Even if the cards are not compromised, what employees will believe after talking to union organizers who are making nonbinding campaign promises and what employees believe when presented with both sides of the debate may differ, as they did at Boeing and in numerous other campaigns.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActEnding Secret Ballots
  7. Unions Paid This Website $504,000. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.

    big spendingIn late 2013 and early 2014, the Internet suffered a plague of psychologically tested headlines (similar to the one in this post title), unleashed on an unsuspecting public by a “viral content” site, Upworthy. And while changes to the Facebook algorithm have reduced the site’s ability to jackhammer vapid memes into people’s heads, the site is still around.

    Earlier this week, with the SEIU and its front groups holding orchestrated protests as part of a corporate campaign to unionize fast food restaurants, Upworthy tweeted (or re-tweeted) dozens of bits of union propaganda and put several articles on its homepage touting the so-called strikes. While it isn’t surprising for a liberal website to push a left-wing message, Upworthy’s touting the campaign—like the campaign itself—conceals many moving parts.

    First, take a close look at Upworthy’s “About” page. The site’s copyright is held by the company “Cloud Tiger Media.” And who, per chance, is a major client of Cloud Tiger Media? One American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, better known as the AFL-CIO.

    In 2014, Labor Department filings showed that the AFL-CIO paid Cloud Tiger $504,000 for “Consulting on Public Education of Labor Movement.” That followed up $300,000 from 2013, for a grand total of $804,000. In 2013, the SEIU chipped in $14,500 to the firm. Now, we can’t know whether Big Labor’s “consulting” payments drove the positive spin from Upworthy, but it sure is interesting how closely tied labor is to left-wing media outlets.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAnti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsUnion SpendingWorkers Center
  8. SEIU’s Astroturf Industry Grows

    fistsThis week, the Service Employees International Union and its “worker center” front groups, led by political consultancy Berlin Rosen, will stage various media stunts claiming to be “strikes” against fast food restaurants. If we sound like a broken record, it’s because the SEIU, the worker centers, and Berlin Rosen have  pulled stunts like this roughly eight times before this one.

    The union’s playbook is highly organized, and directed from the top down by Mary Kay Henry and her colleagues at SEIU headquarters from where the SEIU has invested tens of millions since 2012 into the campaign. And while SEIU’s only actual wins to date seem to be in the area of minimum wage increases in left-wing areas like Seattle and the Bay Area, the tax returns of the “Worker Organizing Committees”  show the real goal: “bargaining collectively with their employers.”

    While SEIU does stand to gain from minimum wage increases, the obscene amounts of money that the SEIU has spent on the campaign indicates that they will only be able to see a “profit” on the investment if they harvest millions in union dues at the end. Department of Labor filings show that SEIU poured roughly $11 million into these committees and $4 million into associated groups in 2013; that has risen to over $17 million to the committees alone with millions more flowing to political consultants and attorneys involved in the orchestrated campaign of demonstrations and lawsuits.

    You can see the year-on-year changes in the chart below: Of the nine “worker organizing committees,” eight saw increases in funding from SEIU national headquarters.

    Workers Committee Funds 2014 Funds 2013 Increase
    Fast Food (NYC) $3,818,871 $1,862,370 $1,956,501
    Chicago $2,898,164 $1,794,932 $1,103,232
    Michigan $2,045,885 $1,478,950 $566,935
    Working Washington (Seattle) $2,648,206 $2,581,784 $66,422
    Mid-South/St Louis $1,902,393 $1,458,592 $443,801
    Southern/Carolina $1,498,271 $300,893 $1,197,378
    Milwaukee $842,432 $1,327,500 (-$485,068)
    East Bay $1,028,233 $306,303 $721,930
    Los Angeles $952,965 $400,000 $552,965
    TOTAL $17,635,420 $11,511,324 $6,124,096
    Categories: Anti-Corporate CampaignsChange To WinSEIUUnion SpendingWorkers Center