Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

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  1. SEIU Goes Rogue, Confronts Climate Change

    nuclear“[L]eaving oil, nautral gas, and other fossil fuels in the ground kills jobs, drives up energy costs, and threatens to strangle our economy.”—Laborers’ International Union (LIUNA) President Terry O’Sullivan


    “We know first-hand that our fights for economic, racial, and immigrant justice are inextricably linked to the fight for environmental justice.”—Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Mary Kay Henry

    Different day, same labor movement? The former was part of the LIUNA president’s scathing letter to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who recently formed a multimillion-dollar super PAC with Tom Steyer, the investor-turned-environmental-zealot. The latter demonstrates the SEIU president’s newfound commitment to tackle climate change, which she claims has given rise to “polluted zip codes” in America. Together, the two statements reveal the deep schism within the labor movement.

    LIUNA and other unions have long supported the extension of the Keystone XL pipeline and, by extension, opposed the “environmental extremists” who would scrap American jobs in the name of climate change. (After the White House blocked the Keystone project, O’Sullivan called the decision “politics at its worst.”) Other unions, however—like the SEIU—have embraced the Left’s environmental agenda. “Our members adopted a platform today to take on the fight for environmental justice and to stand in solidarity with the rest of the labor movement to demand clean air and water, healthy and safe communities and a just transition for all workers affected by a transition to a clean energy economy,” Henry recently proclaimed. Her union is now committing its resources—derived from (often mandatory) member dues—to “broadening environmental justice,” even though roughly 40 percent of union members vote Republican and probably aren’t aboard the green train.

    This, after the union spent at least $20 million on the job-killing Fight for $15 in 2015, sending millions to glitzy consulting firms and left-wing think tanks.

    Worse yet, Henry’s idyllic vision of “solidarity” doesn’t exist. Just ask O’Sullivan, who claims “environmentalists have blown the whistle on workers trying to feed their families.” Or consider the seven building trades presidents who also scolded Trumka for his Steyer alliance. In their words, “[T]he AFL-CIO has now officially become infiltrated by financial and political interests that work in direct conflict to…dues paying members’ lives.”

    That sounds like anything but a unified front.

    Categories: AFL-CIOSEIUUnion Spending
  2. NLRB Allegedly Downplays Pro-Union Threats

    boxingAs we’ve explained before, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) sounds like an impartial observer; but it’s really an unelected body of pro-union bureaucrats. And the NLRB doesn’t hide its true colors.

    This particular story takes us back to 2013, when nursing aides at Pennsylvania nursing company ManorCare of Kingston voted (very narrowly) to unionize the workplace. Shortly after the vote took place, ManorCare objected to certifying the union. Why? Because two pro-union employees had allegedly threatened to beat up nursing aides who voted against the union—raising the possibility of intimidation influencing the final outcome. The NLRB investigated the matter in 2014, finding that one of the employees vowed to “start punching people in the face.” The other threatened to “do damage to people’s cars and cause bodily harm to employees who voted against the union.”

    But did the NLRB order another election? No chance. Instead, the agency argued the threats did not amount to intimidation—and couldn’t have tilted the scales in favor of the union—because one of the employees was short and the other was light-hearted. You read that right: The NLRB backed up its findings by claiming the first employee was “diminutive” and the second “was viewed as joking in nature.” And so the agency upheld ManorCare’s union vote.

    Fast forward to May 2016 and a federal appeals court is now overturning the NLRB’s decision. The District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the NLRB “abused its discretion” by downplaying “pro-union” threats against some of ManorCare’s workers. The court found that not only did the NLRB not take the “general atmosphere of fear and reprisal” seriously enough, but also that employees had a real reason to be threatened. The remarks made by the pro-union employees “were threatening, and seriously so,” the court wrote.

    In the end, the U.S. Circuit Court overturned the union certification at ManorCare. In other words, it did what the “impartial” NLRB should have done from the start—send Big Labor home packing.

    Categories: Crime & CorruptionNLRBViolence
  3. Union President Pay Watch, 2016

    cashThe AFL-CIO releases an annual “Executive PayWatch” report, purporting to show that CEOS are raking in stupid money while employees get peanuts. The statistical gymnastics that the union federation uses to claim CEOs are making 335 times what the “average worker” makes are extreme, as the American Enterprise Institute’s Mark Perry (among others) has explained in detail.

    But, as we noted last year when we called them out, unions’ cherry-picking hides their own pay gaps. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average “chief executive” made $185,850 in 2015. Like last year, we examined unions’ annual Department of Labor disclosures to determine how many still-current union presidents made more than the average CEO. (This is to ensure that union presidents who retire and take deferred compensation aren’t included.) In total, 153 union presidents made more than the average CEO in gross salary. (This doesn’t count other union officials like Secretary-Treasurers, Vice Presidents, and Business Managers—only those with the title “President,” “General President,” or “International President” were counted.)

    You can review the top 10 in the chart below: Most names will be familiar from last year, and the ones who dropped off didn’t miss the list by much. Indeed, Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers had a higher salary (although fewer total disbursements) than she did last year, when she was in the top 10.

    2016_UnionSalaryAnd union bosses (like CEOs) get more than just a salary: Expense accounts and other compensation make union bosses’ lives even more comfortable than just the six-figure pay packets.


    While the AFL-CIO sows class warfare by comparing the salaries of people who run major multi-national companies with teenagers working at fast food restaurants, the bosses’ pay shows that unions are well aware of the real reasons some people make more money than others. Just like running a company, running a labor union requires skills that demand substantial compensation. It is up to union members to thoroughly scrutinize the pay and expenses given to their union officials to determine if they are good value for dues money.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTAnti-Corporate CampaignsDOLTeachers UnionsUFCWUnion Spending
  4. Unions Squabble about New Super PAC

    shutterstock_55032217 (1)Some of America’s major labor unions have decided to form a (surprise, surprise) pro-Democrat super PAC for the 2016 election. Led by the AFL-CIO, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and National Education Association (NEA), the so-called For Our Future PAC is projected to raise about $50 million to boost the Democratic nominee—with unions free to opt in for $1 million.

    But this time, it’s not just unions who are writing the checks. Politico has more:

    The new super PAC would not be the first funded by labor unions. But it represents a departure because in the past union-run super PACs have been funded almost entirely by the unions themselves. Unions have donated frequently to liberal super PACs outside the labor movement, but non-labor donors have seldom contributed to union-run super PACs. The new super PAC is intended to reverse that flow.

    Yet the launch of this new venture hasn’t been smooth sailing for Big Labor. Why? One name: Tom Steyer.

    The investor-turned-environmentalist is leading fundraising efforts for the new super PAC. Hypocrisy aside—Steyer profited from fossil fuel investments as a hedge fund manager—the billionaire’s opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline has riled up buildings and trades unions who saw an extension of the pipeline as a major job creator. This prompted the heads of these unions—including the International Union of Operating Engineers and Laborers’ International Union—to sign and send a scathing letter to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “The AFL-CIO has now officially become infiltrated by financial and political interests that work in direct conflict to many of our members’—and yes, AFL-CIO dues-paying members’ lives,” the letter stated.

    In a separate letter to Trumka, Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ Union, called Steyer’s role in the For Our Future PAC a “politically bankrupt betrayal.” He also wrote, “We object to the political agenda of the AFL-CIO being sold to a job-killing hedge fund manager with a bag of cash.”

    The real tragedy of this is the helplessness of union membership. As union bosses squabble, union members—40 percent of whom vote Republican—are expected to sit idly by and bankroll a green political agenda.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFSCMEAFTNEAPolitical MoneyUnion Spending
  5. Employee Rights Act Attracts Record Co-Sponsorship

    eraThe Employee Rights Act (ERA), labor legislation reintroduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), is gaining traction on Capitol Hill—and breaking its own records along the way. The ERA is now co-sponsored by 144 members of the 114th Congress, including 29 senators. That surpasses the previous high of 137 co-sponsors when the bill was reintroduced in the 113th Congress.

    Considering it is also supported by 80 percent of Americans—union households included—the ERA is one of the most popular bills in Washington, D.C.

    It’s easy to understand why. As we’ve mentioned before, American labor law hasn’t been substantially updated since the 1940s, leaving employees to labor under outdated workplace rules that favor union bosses instead of the rank-and-file. For example, employees still aren’t guaranteed secret ballot elections when they’re mulling union representation. Labor organizers often circumvent the democratic process by using publicly staged “card check” procedures. These public spectacles supplant a private vote and leave employees (and employers) vulnerable to bullying and harassment—which further tilts the scales in favor of Big Labor.

    The ERA would fix the problem by requiring secret ballot union elections and (finally) criminalizing union violence at the federal level. It would also prevent union bosses from spending millions of dollars on left-wing politics without obtaining affirmative approval from their members beforehand. Roughly 40 percent of union households vote Republican, yet more than 90 percent of union dollars support the Democratic Party and closely aligned special interest groups. America’s major unions spent nearly $420 million on liberal causes from 2012 to 2014 alone, forcing many union members to support a political agenda they don’t even believe in.

    Employees deserve better. Congress is now answering their call.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActPolitical MoneyUnion Spending
  6. SEIU Fights for $15…and a Union?


    The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has long puppeteered the push for a $15 minimum wage. As we’ve noted before, the SEIU has spent as much as $80 million on the Fight for $15 since the campaign began in 2012.

    But the SEIU’s fight is for “$15 and a union.” That second part is key: The union’s end goal has always been to increase membership and swell its ranks of dues-paying workers—the financial underpinning for the union’s political activities. The Fight for $15 isn’t so much about raising the wage as it is about using the issue to bolster the labor movement. In These Times recently quoted the Fight for $15’s organizing director, Kendall Fells, admitting as much: “Since the campaign began, the workers have always had two demands. It’s $15 and a union, not $15 or a union.”

    But the former hasn’t really come to fruition. The SEIU has seen no substantial gain in membership as a result of the Fight for $15. In fact, the union lost about 5,800 members from 2014 to 2015, prompting some anxiety among union sympathizers. “There’s a turn to liberalism and the raising of the social wage,” labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein told In These Times. “But the dilemma is it’s not helping the trade union movement institutionally.” Pro-union author and activist Bill Fletcher, Jr. also chimed in: “You can win these [legislative] victories but if you don’t have organization, it all goes poof.”

    For the SEIU, unionizing McDonald’s and other fast-food chains remains a tall task. The union has managed to rally dozens of workers at a time for fast-food strikes, but it needs tens of thousands of pro-union workers on board to even secure a union election in the fast-food sector. In These Times has some perspective:

    According to New York’s Department of Labor, there are 63,587 fast food workers in New York City, a little over half of whom would have to file a card with the NLRB in support of the union. The challenge of triggering a fast food union vote at 50 percent plus one with the NLRB is, therefore, gargantuan. Even triggering a union election at just one of the chains—say, McDonald’s—would prove difficult; the company employs approximately 760,000 people across the country spread across over 10,000 restaurants in the United States.

    It means rough waters ahead for the SEIU, which now must entertain a scary thought: Maybe employees don’t want a union after all.

    Categories: Anti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsSEIUUnion Spending
  7. Courts Give Randi and Allies Big Gifts

    States are fed up with an education system that leaves American students behind their peers abroad. As a result, they have been taking on union-backed policies of “tenure” that give teachers, almost regardless of ability, effective jobs for life. Unfortunately for students, appellate courts in California and North Carolina have just handed teacher union bosses like Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers substantial benefits by overruling these reforms.

    This week, the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned a legislative reform that abolished tenure for all teachers, holding it could only apply to new hires. The only winners here are old teachers who regained their jobs for life and the teachers unions supporting them; students stuck with time-servers are the big losers.

    In California, an appeals court overturned a decision by a state judge that overturned that state’s teacher tenure laws over the objections of teachers unions. By declaring that California’s teacher-union-demanded job protections—a short (only two years) evaluation period before the effective job-for-life protections of tenure, onerous discipline-and-removal processes reminiscent of the worst “rubber rooms,” and a last-in-first-out layoff policy that doesn’t take effectiveness into account—deprived California students of equal access to an effective public education, Judge Rolf Treu’s ruling in a case titled Vergara v. California had offered hope to millions who worried California’s union-controlled political system was impossibly hostile to school reform.

    The appellate ruling in Randi’s favor elicited a scathing response from the editors of the San Francisco Chronicle, who write:

    It’s a big win for teacher unions and their worship of the sanctity of seniority, but a setback for the rest of the schoolhouse world: parents, taxpayers and — most of all — students who live in the most challenged districts. The plaintiffs, who include nine students and a wealthy Silicon Valley backer, are indicating they’ll continue their fight upward on the appeals ladder.


    The stalled case puts the onus on the state Legislature to overhaul the balky rules that are basically in the hands of union leaders, who provide ample money and troops in every election. Thus, the prospect for a legislative fix is bleak. These long odds were a factor for educational reform groups who hoped the courts would act where the Legislature’s ruling Democrats feared to tread.

    While Randi and her fellow teacher union bosses savor a win over what they call “millionaires and special interests,” students will continue to suffer under the status quo. As more and more evidence piles up that teachers unions’ system of jobs-for-life and no accountability are hurting students, legislatures and judges alike will continue to put pressure on Randi’s status quo. While the teachers unions’ massive political machines might keep the status quo alive for a while, when you’ve lost a coalition of liberals including entertainer Whoopi Goldberg, the editors of The Washington Post, and President Obama’s first education secretary Arne Duncan, the writing is already on the wall.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTNEATeachers Unions
  8. SEIU Looks for Return on its Fast Food Investment

    dispute_jpgEarlier this month, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) released its annual Department of Labor disclosures showing a discouraging trend for the union: While it continued to throw money at its multi-million dollar campaign to organize fast food restaurants, membership isn’t increasing notably.

    The union will continue to throw good money after bad with another series of demonstrations today, and this time the target has a name. The Associated Press reports that the SEIU’s latest protests will directly target McDonald’s, which is conveniently the company currently under attack from the NLRB. The SEIU’s organizing director explains the game to the AP:

    Scott Courtney, national organizing director for the SEIU, said he thinks it’s possible that McDonald’s might consider recognition of a workers organization in the next couple of years, which could prompt Burger King and Wendy’s to do the same with their workers.

    Allow us to translate: The SEIU is ramping up a substantial corporate campaign into which the union has already invested up to $80 million over the past four years, with a stated goal to get franchising companies to concede to unionization of the franchisees’ employees by card check.

    The potential payoffs are substantial: Manhattan Institute researcher Diana Furchtgott-Roth estimated that unionizing half of McDonald’s employees could fetch the SEIU $100 million in dues and initiation fees each year. Fast food joints have notoriously high turnover, and each new fry cook could net a local SEIU between $25-$200 in initiation fees alone, before even assessing one pay period’s normal dues (using 1199/SEIU and SEIU 32’s reported initiation fee rates from their Department of Labor disclosures).

    For now, the campaign enriches campaign consultants like Berlin Rosen that organize the demonstrations. But SEIU has a long-term goal of getting its hands on the paychecks of fast food workers. Fortunately for those employees, the effort doesn’t appear to be working.

    Categories: Anti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsChange To WinEmployee Rights ActEnding Secret BallotsSEIUWorkers Center