Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

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  1. Unions Subvert Democracy with Jim Crow-Era Tactics

    UnionLeadersAd_USNEWS_finalUnions talk a big game about voting rights. Every election cycle, they spend millions in members’ dues on left-leaning and Democratic-aligned get-out-the-vote groups. But when the elections are closer to home, Big Labor ignores principles of democracy. Evidence its flacking of the “Workplace Democracy Act”—an Orwellian name that reminded us of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea—which would replace private votes on union representation with publicly obtained card signatures.

    This week, the legal wires give us another example of unions being democratic in name only: A Las Vegas local of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) has been accused by the Department of Labor of using a questionable literacy test and nonstandard election procedures to disqualify a member from running for Vice President of the local.

    In a scene reminiscent of the Jim Crow South, the union’s election judge allegedly ordered prospective candidate Mark Trujillo (an immigrant member of Local 872) to “read aloud a provision of the union’s constitution to determine whether Trujillo was literate. No other candidate was required to read aloud to assess his literacy.” Trujillo was later disqualified from running for union office, as were all his fellow challengers to the union incumbents. Labor law permits setting literacy as a condition for holding union office, but the requirement must be assessed uniformly.

    This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about unions going the extra mile (and allegedly breaking the law) to ensure incumbent union officers have a lock on their positions. SEIU Local 221 reportedly censored candidates’ statements in a re-run election after only one percent of members voted in an officer election with polling stations at “5 weird Starbucks locations.” The Department of Labor has concluded 20 “voluntary compliance agreements” just this year to remedy improper union elections.

    Unions’ consistent disregard for the basic democratic protections guaranteed to union members by the Landrum-Griffin Act shows the need to expand employee rights. The Employee Rights Act (ERA) currently before Congress would require unions themselves to stand for reelection under a recertification procedure.

    Rather than frequently rigged “democratic” officer elections run by unions, the ERA would require federally supervised referendums on whether the union was effective enough for the employees to keep around. The measure is widely supported, with  77% of union households favoring the measure.

    Categories: AFL-CIOEmployee Rights ActEnding Secret Ballots
  2. Labor’s Confused “Workplace Democracy”

    UnionLeadersAd_USNEWS_finalThe Employee Rights Act (ERA) has kicked off a long-overdue debate over the future of labor policy in America’s 21st Century labor force. Labor and the radical unionist far left have now responded, with two proposals to force more employees to become dues-paying union members.

    This week, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont (an ally of National Nurses United, AFL-CIO) and Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin (who represents the very liberal city of Madison) introduced the “Workplace Democracy Act.” It is “democratic” in a similar manner to the former German Democratic Republic or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: Not at all. The bill would (like the similarly misnamed “Employee Free Choice Act”) effectively end the practice of secret-ballot elections supervised by federal authorities and replace it with public card check—the exact opposite of the ERA, which would prevent employers and unions from colluding to prevent a secret ballot vote. Needless to say, the AFL-CIO is ecstatic.

    The unions are also pushing a separate measure, the “WAGE Act” sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Rep. Bobby Scott, which would codify most of the pro-unionization decisions the National Labor Relations Board has enacted under its extremely partisan pro-labor majority since 2009. For good measure, a provision giving the NLRB discretion to order card check on a case by case basis is buried in the bill’s fine print.

    These measures are the exact opposite of the way that American employees need labor reform to go. Rather than taking marching orders from union bosses, Congress should move on the Employee Rights Act’s guarantee of a secret ballot to unionize. This common-sense measure has the support of 85 percent of union households. If unions want the trappings of “democracy,” they need to drop their anti-democratic fantasies and accept the results of secret ballot votes.

    Categories: AFL-CIOEmployee Rights ActEnding Secret Ballots
  3. NYC’s Diversity-Challenged Construction Unions Try to Change the Subject

    Last week, we pointed out that the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC)—the regional coalition of New York City’s construction industry labor unions—was overstating its ethnic diversity.

    Led by a “male, pale, and stale” executive board (to borrow former SEIU International President Andy Stern’s immortal phrase), the unions so eager to tout minority representation in apprentice positions are hiding an inconvenient truth: Census Bureau data show that black workers in unionized construction jobs in NYC earn 20 percent less than their white counterparts.

    Less than a week after we highlighted this fact in a full-page newspaper ad, the BCTC reacted with an ad of their own.

    BCTC response

    Perhaps they would have been better off keeping quiet.

    Despite all that rhetoric and deflection (more apprentices!), the BCTC doesn’t address our critical point: Non-white union members in the construction industry make less than their white counterparts. And unions’ own actions likely shoulder much of the blame, as our Executive Director tells readers today of the Black Star News:

    The BCTC might argue that White union workers tend to occupy positions in the industry that require more training and experience, but this begs the question: Why aren’t those higher-level positions equally available to Black workers in the same industry?


    History might have something to do with it. The use of apprenticeship programs to hide a less-than-diverse workforce isn’t a new tactic: As the Christian Science Monitor wrote regarding the 1993 Dinkins report, “white male workers routinely became union members after working at a job site for one to four weeks, while minorities often spend four or five years in an apprenticeship program.”

    If this practice has continued, it would explain both the disproportion of non-white apprentices and the wage gap in union construction, where union contracts and state wage rules set the apprentice pay below the full-rank “journeyman” pay. The BCTC has some explaining to do, and if the Daily News ad is any indication, they’re not up to the task.

    Categories: AFL-CIOBuilding and Construction Trades CouncilCarpenters Union
  4. NYC Construction Union Leadership: Male, Pale, and Stale

    We recently noted that the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC) is promoting itself as an advocate for jobs and opportunity for minority workers in New York City.

    Here’s one of their ads, emphasizing how many apprenticeships are going to non-white union members:

    NYC BCTC Apprentices advert

    We found the emphasis on apprentices curious. While it’s surely notable that two-thirds of local appreciates are minorities, it raises the question: Who’s getting the higher-level, better-paying jobs?

    A review of the leadership of the BCTC, which represents the city’s major construction unions, isn’t promising. As we note in an advertisement in the New York Daily News, the union leadership is historically exclusively “male, pale, and stale”—older white dudes as famously noted (regarding national unions) by former SEIU President Andy Stern.



    To determine whether the monochromatic leadership is indicative of any broader trends, we used Census Bureau data to look at the average hourly earnings for white and black employees in New York City’s construction industry. The results, displayed below, don’t look good for the union:

    NYC construction

    Black unionized construction workers makes $5.74 less per hour on average than a white unionized worker, or roughly 20 percent less. Labor groups might argue that white union workers tend to occupy positions in the industry that require more experience, but this begs the question: Why aren’t those higher-level positions equally available to black workers in the industry?

    It’s likely that a contributing cause is the unions’ sordid history of discrimination on the basis of race. In 1999, the Christian Science Monitor reported on allegations of discrimination in New York construction unions (emphasis added):

    “This has been a way of life in the construction trades for a very long time. NYU is just the latest case,” says Jim Haughton, who heads Harlem Fight Back, a group that began organizing black construction workers in the early 1960s. […] The role of racism in hiring was documented in a landmark 1993 study by the New York City Commission on Human Rights that examined the construction trades. The report found underrepresentation of minorities in trade unions greatest among Asians and Latinos. The report also said that white male workers routinely became union members after working at a job site for one to four weeks, while minorities often spend four or five years in an apprenticeship program.

    All told, the evidence suggests that the BCTC of Greater New York may not be the beacon of opportunity to New York City’s non-white community that it claims to be.

    Categories: AFL-CIOBuilding and Construction Trades CouncilCarpenters Union
  5. OUR Walmart fights…OUR Walmart?

    hangoverWe noted reports from a few months ago that the United Food and Commercial Workers’ front group OUR Walmart might be dead, with the union cutting off at least some of its financial support. Those reports apparently weren’t the full story—the full story is even more entertaining.

    Apparently, the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front—er, OUR Walmart and a new OUR Walmart that split off from the old one—are fighting over which is the “true” OUR Walmart. Reuters reports on the “new boss”:

    A Wal-Mart Stores Inc worker group that has been one of the loudest voices pushing the retailer to boost wages and improve conditions has splintered over a disagreement about funding and strategic direction, according to people on both sides of the split.


    Both wings are claiming the name OUR Walmart and vow to continue their work, moves that could sow confusion among supporters.

    The “new OUR Walmart” officially re-launched late last week, to essentially no fanfare and much confusion. The splitters are literally the old OUR Walmart bosses: The former UFCW employees who used to run the original OUR Walmart are leading the effort. The funding source doesn’t appear that different either, with the rebels reportedly backed by a cattle-call of labor union-funded nonprofit groups including Demos, New York Communities for Change, and Interfaith Worker Justice (among others).

    The UFCW, however, has other ideas—it intends to continue promoting a separate OUR Walmart campaign as the “true” OUR Walmart. Politico reports:

    Meanwhile, UFCW tells us it will continue to fund its own, separate OUR Walmart campaign to improve pay and working conditions for Wal-Mart employees. There appears to be a dispute between the relaunched OUR Walmart and the UFCW about who possesses rights to that name. On the one hand, OUR Walmart has always been a nonprofit legally independent from UFCW. On the other, a source familiar with the UFCW campaign says UFCW still owns the trademark for OUR Walmart, including the campaign’s name, logo, website and Facebook page.


    That same source says the former UFCW members now presiding over the OUR Walmart relaunch “were fired because [they] hijacked the board and refused democratic elections…[and] because of mistakes they made that led to seven injunctions in seven states…that angered workers.” But sources familiar with the OUR Walmart relaunch say the breach occurred because UFCW cut funding for the OUR Walmart campaign — a claim UFCW denies.

    We have no idea whom to believe, as both sides’ allegations are fully in character for Big Labor. Hijacking the board and refusing democratic elections would hardly be unprecedented in the union movement. Indeed this year, federal regulators at the Department of Labor have entered 16 voluntary compliance agreements with unions that have improperly conducted their officer elections.

    And it’s entirely plausible that UFCW cut funding for OUR Walmart—it wasn’t paying off. The new UFCW leadership quite plausibly wasn’t happy that OUR Walmart was sucking up money but not returning any of the union investment in union dues.

    Far from the sign of a campaign on the right track, the “relaunch” of the splitter OUR Walmart is a sign that this organization effort hasn’t paid off for UFCW and that six-figure union organizers need somewhere to keep working. Meanwhile, union front groups are fighting each other.

    Categories: Anti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsUFCWWorkers Center
  6. ERA Takes Center Stage in Labor Debate

    2035478770_be44a99e4cWisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who rose to national prominence by reforming public-employee labor law in his state, gave a major policy speech on labor relations in Las Vegas yesterday. In a wide-ranging call for reform to public and private employment law, Walker endorsed key provisions of the Employee Rights Act (ERA) and called for Congress to pass the bill “immediately.”

    Our Executive Director explains some of the potential benefits the ERA could offer supporters like Gov. Walker in a Washington Examiner op-ed today. He writes:

    In other words, the ERA is pretty uncontroversial stuff. For these reasons, it has enormously broad-based appeal. The eight measures poll near 80 percent approval from the American public, and are equally supported by union and non-union households. […]

    That’s not to say that Big Labor and its sycophants are not without a response to the ERA. They claim it is an attack on the unions that “brought you the weekend” or “the eight hour workday.” But even conceding such vacuous responses, the ERA does not attack collective bargaining or mandatory dues in union shops. It doesn’t attack pensions, wages or benefits. Or the weekend.

    The broad support for ERA’s package of reforms that would amount to the broadest reform to American labor law since 1947 is perhaps the bill’s greatest strength. With employees across America dealing with union abuses ranging from surprise “card check” organizing campaigns to intimidation of union dissidents, the ERA could not be more necessary. We echo Governor Walker’s call to Congress to immediately act on the ERA, and hope that more prominent public figures take stands in its favor.

    Categories: Employee Rights Act
  7. Detroit Teachers Union President Taken Down

    We’ve followed with interest the problems of American Federation of Teachers Local 231, the Detroit Federation of Teachers. In January, taking a cue from the Chicago local’s election of radical Karen Lewis in 2010, union voters narrowly picked agitator Steve Conn to be the union’s president.

    That didn’t go well. Not in the predicted way—creating a radical union standing in the schoolhouse door placing its own interests ahead of students. No, Conn found a new path of failure which earned him an impeachment hearing. The DFT’s Executive Board voted to sack him from office and expel him from the union.

    The union board found that Conn had done the following: failed to pay the union’s required “per capita tax” assessments to national headquarters; improperly affiliated with the rabble-rouser group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN);  improperly changed meeting times; and failed to investigate and remedy abuse and violence against DFT members.

    BAMN apparently caused all sorts of problems. The Detroit News reports what the union disciplinary panel found:

    “There was testimony that BAMN members attended and participated in the January 25 special membership meeting and were abusive to DFT members,” the executive board notice stated. “At the February regular membership meeting the members voted to exclude them from the meeting. President Conn then failed and refused to preside over the next three regular membership meetings and instead held three more special membership meetings.”

    Conn is now fighting for his seat: Under DFT rules, a two-thirds vote of members at the next general meeting would reinstate him, and if that fails Conn has vowed a lawsuit. In the meantime, we’ll go get the popcorn ready.

    Categories: AFT
  8. Not-So-High Times for the UFCW

    In California, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) has a multi-year ongoing campaign to organize workers in the budding retail marijuana industry. In 2011, UFCW organizers appeared with dispensary owners calling for San Jose to allow more dispensaries to open and be unionized by UFCW. Pot shops also hoped that closer alignment with the union would ease threatened pressure from the Obama Administration, which had vowed a federal crackdown on the grey-market businesses.

    It seems some UFCW bosses, however, had different reasons to curry favor with pot shops. Federal investigators have charged Daniel Rush, an organizing coordinator with the national UFCW’s “cannabis division” who was paid $131,765 from member dues in 2014, with taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks from pot industry businessmen. The East Bay Express gives a detailed accounting of the allegations, while SFGate reports:

    From 2010 to 2014, Rush received money or other items of value from people representing the employers of potential union members, in violation of federal law, authorities said. The affidavit says Rush borrowed $600,000 in cash from a marijuana dispensary operator but was unable to repay the debt.

    In exchange for forgiveness of this personal debt, Rush and an attorney he works with “took steps to provide various labor benefits to the (dispensary operator), including union support for opening dispensaries and reducing or eliminating pressure to unionize dispensary workers,” the complaint says.

    Rush isn’t the only union boss in trouble this week. In New Jersey, former International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 164 Business Manager Richard Dressel had his convictions for embezzlement reinstated by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. Prosecutors argued that Dressel created a program within the union to direct a no-bid contract to his girlfriend, and the Third Circuit ruled that jurors were within their rights to convict him of embezzlement.

    Categories: Crime & CorruptionUFCW