Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

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  1. Unions Fight To Keep Political Cash Advantage

    Money Money Money Money ... Money!Unions used to be the leading source of organizational political contributions. A quick look at the Opensecrets list of “heavy hitters”—the top outside donors since 1989—shows that of the top 15 donor organizations, 10 are still labor unions. And Opensecrets only counts federal PAC contributions (which are opt-in); unions also maintain sophisticated state- and local-level political operations funded (at least in part) with general dues money. Unfortunately for union members, these contributions can only be avoided through a complicated, opt-out process that varies by state and union. The Employee Rights Act, a proposed federal legislation, would require that all union political spending be opt-in, a policy supported by 83 percent of union households in recent national polling.

    Citizens United v. FEC changed the restrictions. Now, unions, nonprofits (within limits), and for-profit companies have the same rights to speak about politicians and political issues in election season as individuals, meaning unions can use dues money to make “un-coordinated independent expenditures” that weigh in on elections without input from particular candidates’ campaigns. In unions’ case, this allows them to spend even more money pushing the union leaderships’ preferred candidates, even though exit polls show that roughly 40 percent of union members vote Republican at the federal level nationwide, while the overwhelming amount of union donations go to Democrats.

    But rather than enjoying their new privileges, unions (and liberal “watchdog” organizations they fund) are annoyed that business-friendly groups are also able to play the game. Unions’ solution? If reports from a meeting between New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and labor unions that support the left-wing Working Families Party (which typically backs union-friendly Democrats under New York State’s rare multiple-ballot-line candidacy system) are accurate, their proposal is “public campaign financing.”

    And how might that benefit unions? An op-ed in The Wall Street Journal illustrates how unions manipulate the decisions of New York City’s Campaign Finance Board through political favor trades and get help from “questionable” rulings:

    The CFB has developed decidedly undemocratic habits. Most recently, the board cleared the Democratic primary field for new New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Having shut out private money while opening the floodgates to unions, along the way it also has played favorites with millions of dollars of taxpayer money. […]


    New York City’s campaign finance law also contains a vast carve-out for unions. In 2005, the CFB attempted to codify its practice of treating local union contributions as “single source” contributions. That is, each union was subject to the $4,950 contribution limit per candidate that applies to individuals.


    Labor pushed back and got a bill through the City Council in 2005 that allows for nearly unlimited campaign contributions by unions. Each of many local union chapters now has the ability to make the maximum $4,950 donations as a separate entity—even though they all remain firmly under the umbrella of a single union. Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr. , then the chairman of the Campaign Finance Board, trashed the bill as a “poorly conceived measure” and “retrogressive.”

    So unions get favorable rulings to clear the field for their chosen candidates, and they get a carve-out that lets them evade donation caps. No wonder unions like the SEIU’s New York locals and the Communications Workers of America want to replicate their successful City scheme statewide.

    Without “paycheck protection” like in the ERA, the rights of employees who dissent from union political preferences will be infringed even more under this or a similar scheme that restores unions’ effectively unopposed political playing field. It’s past time for Congress to come together, advance the interest of America’s employees, and pass the Employee Rights Act.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActPolitical Money
  2. New York Governor Hits Randi’s Henchmen

    AFT Times Square BillboardAndrew Cuomo, the Democratic Governor of New York, has had his hands full with agitation by the American Federation of Teachers Local 2, the United Federation of Teachers. Cuomo sits more on the “reform” side of the internal debate in his party between the teachers unions (who have the ear of City Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito) who defend the failed status quo, and reformists who want working-class children to have successful educations.

    Speaker Mark-Viverito spewed Randi Weingarten-esque talking points at Cuomo, Tweeting that her fellow Democrat supported “hedge fund backed charters.” Governor Cuomo took exception, telling a radio show:

    We have a big bureaucracy with a system that is entrenched, and it funds public education. […] And they have their lobbyists, and they have their little public relations teams, and they have their front groups and their advocates, and this is disruptive to that entire system, which is a multi-billion dollar system.

    Ouch, but true. And the “front groups” are well funded by the UFT; its state council, the New York State United Teachers or NYSUT; and its national parent, the AFT. The New York Post reports:

    The rebranded ACORN — New York Communities for Change — received a total of $1.3 million from the United Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers from 2010 to 2013. The unions also pumped $1.2 million into a group called Alliance for Quality Education.

    Fun fact: New York Communities for Change is the same front group that the SEIU funded to the tune of $2.4 million largely to aid the Fast Food Forward “strike” campaign against restaurants. Big labor knows who will do its bidding.

    Either way, Gov. Cuomo is on to something here even if he doesn’t know how or why. The UFT and Randi’s national AFT are far more vested in their own failed status quo—and they invest in the infrastructure such as P.R. shops and front groups to preserve it—than they are in the education of kids in Harlem who go to relatively successful schools that happen to be operated by Weingarten’s enemy, former NYC Councilmember Eva Moskowitz. But until the power of Randi’s radical union is checked, it can continue to put itself before kids.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsSEIUTeachers UnionsWorkers Center
  3. Dealing with Union Intimidation, Kansas Style

    Unions in the construction and contracting sectors (especially the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners) are well-known for attempting to intimidate businesses that hire non-unionized contractors. Even though the National Labor Relations Act forbids secondary pickets (protesting against third-party businesses that deal with a non-union company), Carpenters locals and councils are permitted (under a 2010 NLRB decision joined by ex-SEIU and AFL-CIO lawyer Craig Becker) to display a stationary banner stating “Shame On” the third-party business.

    There’s a reason that over 80 percent of Americans favor the Employee Rights Act (ERA) provision to protect employee privacy from union organizers: Unions pressure and intimidate opponents as a matter of course. Most say little, but Carpenters Local 201 in Wichita, Kansas probably did not expect one business to fight back cleverly:

    Subaru of Wichita Unbeatable Prices

    The Carpenters’ sign is on the left, and the dealership’s is on the right. We’ve noted Carpenters Local 201’s campaign before: KWCH-TV tried to figure out what the particulars of the “Labor Dispute” were, and the union clammed up.

    In a way, Carpenters 201’s decline parallels the decline of organized labor in the private sector nationally. In 2000, Local 201 reported 385 members. Last year, that number had more than halved, with the union declaring 148 members. And rather than reforming its practices to stay competitive in a changing world, nationally the Carpenters chose to go radical (quitting the AFL-CIO to join the more militant SEIU-led Change to Win alliance in 2005 only to leave in 2009) and double down on intimidation tactics.

    It hasn’t worked. It is now past time for the labor movement to realize that only by introducing real accountability into labor organizations and establishing the democratic secret ballot as the decision-making vehicle that unions have any chance of saving themselves. Union households know this, which is why nearly 80 percent support the ERA’s provisions. It’s time for union leadership to come to the realization themselves.

    Categories: Anti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights Act
  4. AFT Chicago Local Pushes Left-Wing Teaching

    Wallce TUX adRemember Karen Lewis? She is the radical President of the Chicago Teachers Union, American Federation of Teachers Local 1, which made national headlines in 2012 for going on citywide strike. (Our thoughts on that action aren’t subtle: You don’t block the schoolhouse door to stop reform of one of America’s lowest-performing school districts.) Lewis is at it again though.

    She was recently caught on camera by the Education Action Group at the Network for Public Education conference promoting teaching “social justice”—P.R.-speak for left-wing ideology—in math class. That’s not to say that ideological indoctrination should be part of any lesson plan, but seriously, math class? Two plus two equals four, no matter who is President. Here’s the clip:

    Lewis’s emphasis on promoting left-wing ideology rather than addition and subtraction skills is misplaced. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Chicago Public Schools students perform worse than the average large city’s students in math in both fourth and eighth grades. Additionally, progress for Chicago eighth graders stagnated over the 2011-2013 interval despite continued advances for comparable cities.

    Even worse, NAEP data show that performance gaps between African American and white students haven’t improved significantly in eighth-grade math over the past decade. Despite this crisis, the AFT’s woman in the Windy City emphasizes ideology over performance. If there were ever evidence that Randi Weingarten’s union is a radical force for ruin in American education, Lewis’s strange priorities are it.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers UnionsUnion Math
  5. Fast Food Flopward

    22154002_13751bd6eeWe noted earlier this week that the Service Employees International Union-backed worker centers, following a playbook to organize restaurant workers by an intimidation-laced national card-check campaign, were going to protest fast food franchises. They did, and basically nothing happened—all the “strikes” were stage-managed stunts.

    You don’t have to take our word for it: The Associated Press report from New York City on the protests indicates that this week’s actions weren’t all they were promoted to be. The AP reporter explains:

    It was a far smaller showing than other recent protests in New York City and it wasn’t clear how many participants were fast-food workers, rather than campaign organizers, supporters or members of the public relations firm that has been coordinating media efforts. Still, the latest rallies reflect the push by labor groups to keep continued pressure on the issue of worker pay.

    It’s not at all surprising that the crowd might be overpopulated with professional organizers and BerlinRosen (the public relations firm for SEIU, prominent union-backed New York Democrats, and other unions) staff: As far as anyone — even the labor movement newspaper In These Times — can determine, a sizable number of union-backed “worker center” actions are. Here’s a brief lineup of other “worker center” actions backed by SEIU, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and other labor groups that look less like employee-led actions and more like stage-managed press stunts by professional organizers.

    • According to labor movement newspaper In These Times, SEIU-backed “Fight for 15” campaigns in Seattle and Washington, D.C. had “little evidence of worker-to-worker organizing” and “active workers number[ing] a dozen or less, about the same as the number of paid organizers.”
    • An analysis by a think tank of the backgrounds of arrested protesters at a UFCW-backed anti-Wal-Mart protest indicated that over half had labor union or liberal political backgrounds.
    • Wal-Mart’s own analysis indicated that 20 of its 1.3 million employees—a staggeringly small .0015% of its workforce—participated in “Black Friday” protests in 2013. In pre-protest media pitches, the UFCW’s worker center (OUR Walmart) downplayed the idea of employee involvement, emphasizing support from liberal groups.WorkerCentersWSJ_Santa_Ad
    • If the UFCW/OUR Walmart “Associate Voices” posted on its supposedly “grassroots” web page were any indication, many Wal-Mart associates weren’t eager to work at “Union Market”Where bad service and limited selection cost more!“—as some employees endorsed merit pay for good workers, suggested getting rid of incompetent employees, and complained about Democratic Party politicians the UFCW strongly supported.
    • The AFL-CIO has endorsed worker centers and other so-called “alt-labor” organizations to try to recover private-sector unions’ pathetic position among employees. They run their own group, “Working America,” out of AFL-CIO headquarters, and the organization has been keenly involved backing union-friendly politicians in cities across the country.

    Since worker centers came on the scene a couple of years ago, we’ve been warning employees and policymakers that they aren’t much more than old-style labor unions in disguise. (You can see our effort from The Wall Street Journal last December at right.) Now, the national media is taking notice that worker center actions are stage-managed P.R. stunts with little participation from the employees supposedly “on strike.”

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsSEIUUFCWWorkers Center
  6. Bill Followed Randi to the Cliff: Will He Jump?

    nyc pretty skylineNews from New York, the city whose most vulnerable kids are under siege from Randi Weingarten and the American Federation of Teachers: A new Quinnipiac Poll finds a majority of New Yorkers disapprove of the education policies of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has followed Randi’s radical agenda chapter and verse. While de Blasio’s overall approval numbers are above water, they’re way down from his post-election honeymoon levels. It looks like Randi (and her New York City underlings at the United Federation of Teachers) have led their political patron to the edge of a political cliff.

    The polling release is brutal for Randi, Michael Mulgrew (President of AFT’s New York local), and Mayor de Blasio. Closing charter schools is opposed 79-14, with 40 percent of voters saying the number of charter schools should be increased. Requiring charters to pay rent when sharing space with public schools—a union-demanded de Blasio initiative—is also underwater.

    All told, the mayor’s approval rating on public schools is a lousy 38 percent, with 49 percent opposed. With public school parents, the Mayor fares worse: 39-55. Randi’s radicalism is proving too much for New York parents and voters.

    But when Randi says, “Jump,” the mayor says, “How high.” Whether de Blasio jumps off the AFT’s political cliff may determine his future, but Randi has a record of punishing Democrats who stand up for kids and don’t toe the union line. The mayor may just be trapped between a rock and a hard place.

    Categories: AFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers Unions
  7. SEIU Draws on Exhausted “Strike” Playbook for Card Check and News Hits

    22154002_13751bd6eeToday, proto-union “worker centers” set up by the SEIU will stage demonstrations in up to 30 cities in support of SEIU’s “Fight for 15” organizing campaign. The demonstrations are part of an ongoing, complex, and sophisticated campaign to organize restaurant employees without a secret ballot under card check arrangements.

    Today’s protests are expected to focus on allegations of “wage theft,” which is union-speak for underpayment of wages and uncompensated work. Workers referred by the SEIU to or through the lawfirm Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll—which did $14,574 of business with SEIU in 2012—recently sued McDonald’s and some McDonald’s franchisees alleging these practices.

    That brought our minds back to a November 2013 report in the labor movement newspaper In These Times on Fast Food Forward. The reporter described SEIU’s strategy in multiple stages. Phase one, which the lawsuit’s inclusion of McDonald’s as corporate parent emphasizes, is waging legal attacks on the distinction between franchisors and franchisees.

    The reason? Organizing “fissured” industries like restaurants is time consuming, expensive, and doesn’t yield many members-per-effort. Organize a franchise of McDonald’s, get 10-20 members, go to next franchise, start over. Wouldn’t it be easier just to go to a corporate parent, get the parent to agree to card-check on behalf of all franchises, and be done with it?

    The SEIU thinks so. Targeting (initially) the McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s brands, the union will push the idea of “wage theft” in brand attacks to intimidate corporate parents into a deal. At the same time, the specter of legal liability for franchisee misdeeds will pressure the brands to the table. SEIU’s endgame? Card check unionization agreements (under the P.R. tested euphemism “neutrality agreements”) with the brands, enforceable against franchisees.

    The sophistication and depth of SEIU’s multi-pronged and multi-tiered strategy puts employee rights in a bind. Against a bare-knuckle political operation run through the SEIU’s P.R. firm BerlinRosen—which claims credit for getting the sitting Attorney General of New York State (Eric Schneiderman) and New York City Mayor de Blasio elected—on one hand and SEIU’s history of intimidation on the other, it may take a federal solution—like the Employee Rights Act, which would update America’s Truman-vintage labor laws to require secret-ballot unionization elections and periodic union recertification—to ensure that employees’ voices are heard.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActSEIUWorkers Center
  8. The Political Elephants in the Room

    eraWe’ve pointed out before that unions’ ability to effectively compel members—including members who don’t support the unions’ political preferences—to support the politicians of the unions’ choosing makes them political power players. Now, our Executive Director is telling Pennsylvanians that Trumka’s money is coming to influence their election, a large bloc of members’ opinions aside:

    Last week, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka pledged that labor will spend a staggering $300 million to unseat just five Republican governors, including Gov. Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania. Were all union members in these five states opposed to these governors, it would be one thing. But as recent data show, it’s quite another.

    In Pennsylvania in 2010, 42 percent of members of union households voted for Corbett, yet 95 percent of union political contributions went to Democrat candidate Dan Onorato, according to The same story is likely to play out this fall, as approximately 30 to 40 percent of union household voters will cast ballots for Republican candidates across the country whom their unions are planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat.

    Humorously, as unions toot their own horns about how much they spend (or plan to spend) on behalf of (overwhelmingly) Democrats, left-leaning media outlets are trying to downplay the role unions’ largely compelled political donations play in American politics, which led to a comedy of factual errors from The New York Times last week. Unfortunately for union members, the overwhelming partisanship in union political donations neither reflects many of their interests nor proves effective in convincing politicians to help members out. As UNITE HERE is discovering in its difficulty over Obamacare, being the Democratic Party’s “cheap date” is no way to win friends and influence people.

    There is only one solution: Union members must have an effective means not to subsidize political candidates and causes they disagree with. A proposed piece of federal legislation would do just that by requiring unions to get opt-ins from members before spending dues money on politics. As our Executive Director writes:

    There has to be a way to reduce this inequality of rights between unions and their members. Fortunately, there is legislation before both Congress that provides an opportunity for reform: the Employee Rights Act (ERA). It would be the first substantive reform to federal labor law in more than 50 years. One of its provisions would require unions to gain consent from members before spending their dues money on political causes or candidates. […]


    It’s time members of Congress listen to their constituents and pass the ERA.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActPolitical MoneyUnion Spending