Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

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  1. Labor Reform Debate Takes Shape

    KarenCox Kitchen TableThis week, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah); Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia); and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) re-introduced the Employee Rights Act, a package of popular reforms to increase individual rights in the workplace. In a press conference promoting the bill, Rep. Price noted the broad support voters have for ERA’s reforms:

    “Over 80 percent of Republicans, independents, and Democrats agree that workplaces should hold periodic union certification elections, the right to a secret ballot, employee privacy from unions, and criminalizing union threats,” he said. “I think if folks in Washington can put aside political aspirations and agendas, we could make some serious headway on protecting the individual in the workplace.”

    Sen. Alexander noted that the aggressive pro-union actions of the National Labor Relations Board make ERA more needed than ever, saying, “From its decision to move ahead with the ambush election rule to its attempt to undermine state right-to-work laws, recent actions from the NLRB have not only been some of the most partisan we’ve seen, they’ve also been the most damaging to the rights of employees.”

    But executive action against popular reform isn’t the only emerging threat to employee rights. Labor wants to frame its position for the 2016 elections, and so the AFL-CIO is preparing to roll out its own package of labor law changes. Politico reports that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka hopes to roll out a series of bills that would codify NLRB actions (possibly including the “ambush election” rule), give the NLRB more power, and declare union organizing a “civil right.” Card check—mandating union organizing without a private vote—isn’t necessarily off the table.

    Labor policy in the coming years will be defined by this debate between individual rights and union boss power. Union officials like Trumka have six-figure salaries that they’re committed to defending with the full might of labor’s political power, but individual employees continue to suffer from union abuses.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActPolitical Money
  2. With Momentum and Personal Stories, Hatch and Price Reintroduce Employee Rights Act

    Karen never got a vote

    Today, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia) are re-introducing the Employee Rights Act, a reform proposal that will bring America’s Depression-era labor laws in line with a 21st Century workplace. In support of that effort, we’re highlighting the stories of six employees who were victims of union abuses and now support the reforms in the bill. We’ve made a video introducing them and the principles behind the bill, which you can view below.

    Karen Cox came to work one day and found her cold-storage workplace unionized without a vote. David Shirey, a school bus driver from Pennsylvania, is sick of his union dues funding union bosses’ political cronies. Lee Carey, a Los Angeles Times press operator, believes he should be able to hold his union accountable for its campaign promises by automatic  re-certification elections. You can hear them and three other victims of union abuses tell their stories at

    All told, the Act would make major reforms to federal labor law. Each major reform is supported by substantial majorities approaching and frequently exceeding 80 percent support including  union households. The reforms include:

    • Secret Ballot Elections — ERA guarantees that a majority of all employees have a right to a secret paper ballot election. Prevents unions pressuring an employer to deny a secret ballot election;
    • Political Protection — ERA requires unions to receive opt-in permission from each member to use his or her union dues for support of politics or interest groups;
    • Union Recertification Elections — ERA mandates that all unionized workplaces  hold a secret ballot referendum after half of the employees  have moved on since the last certification of union states;
    • Employee Privacy Protection — ERA gives employees the right to opt out of having their personal information shared with a union during an organizing campaign;
    • Decertification Coercion Prevention — ERA strengthens the National Labor Relations Act to prohibit unions from intimidating or coercing employees from exercising their rights, including their right to decertify the union.
    • Secret Ballot Strike Vote — ERA ensures that a majority of all employees in the bargaining unit have the right to a secret ballot vote before union leaders can declare a strike.
    • Criminalizes Union Threats — ERA creates a new federal right that forbids unions from using violence, or threats in pursuit of union objectives.

    We expect union bosses to raise hell with President Obama and Democratic congressmen if  they support these common sense labor reforms.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActPolitical Money
  3. Nineteen Years for Corrupt Ironworkers Union Boss

    laborpains 9 10 altJoseph Dougherty, the business agent and financial secretary of Ironworkers Union Local 401, AFL-CIO, was convicted in January of numerous racketeering and violence-related offenses related to his union’s “goon squads,” which union bosses called the THUGs (apparently with no sense of irony). This week, he learned his fate. Federal Judge Michael Baylson sentenced Dougherty to nineteen years and two months in federal prison. (Dougherty already lost his $190,000-plus salary.)

    In a way, Dougherty was unlucky: If his union had engaged in different forms of threats and violence, the Feds wouldn’t have been able to touch him. Under a Supreme Court case called U.S. v. Enmons, unions are exempt from prosecution under the Hobbs Act for certain violent acts. (There have been calls to close this loophole, including the Employee Rights Act.)

    More interesting than Dougherty’s nearly two-decade sentence is the reaction of his (erstwhile) fellow Philadelphia labor bigwigs. Supporters of Dougherty protested outside the courtroom where he was sentenced, demanding, “Free Joe Doc” and chanting, “It ain’t over yet, Doc!” And while the local labor council and building trades council heads may have avoided that tawdry spectacle, they were extremely sparing in their criticism of Dougherty’s crimes. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

    Dougherty, former chief of Ironworkers Local 401, is a longtime friend of [Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO President Pat] Eiding’s, and Eiding says he isn’t convinced Dougherty is anywhere close to being a racketeer, despite a federal jury’s verdict to the contrary. […] “Joe’s a good friend,” said Eiding, 74.

    Eiding may have spared Dougherty rhetorical condemnation for a series of offenses related to what the Inquirer called a “years-long campaign of sabotage, arson, and intimidation to keep members of his Ironworkers Local 401 employed,” but others in Philadelphia’s labor community rushed to defend the THUG leader. James Moran, who led a labor-funded nonprofit, engaged in a bit of “just asking questions” conspiracy-mongering as he planned the pro-Dougherty rally:

    “What better way to attack unions than to come to one of the most strongly union towns in the country and go after one of the toughest unions in the town?” Moran said.

    In reality, Dougherty was tried and convicted by a jury of his peers for systematic violence and intimidation committed by the union he led.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsCrime & CorruptionEmployee Rights ActViolence
  4. California’s Worst Franchisor? The SEIU.

    Trojan HorseThe Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is currently directing its political lackeys in the California State Legislature to advance a bill that makes it harder for franchisors to change, revoke, or fail to renew contracts with their franchisees. This political fight has created a bizarre alliance between SEIU, which has spent something on the order of $50 million trying to make franchisees’ lives more difficult with union labor rules, and a handful of franchisees annoyed at provisions of their franchise contracts.

    The disaffected franchisees shouldn’t trust SEIU for numerous reasons—the union, after all, wants to saddle their operations with massive hikes in their number-one cost, labor.

    More important, though, is the fact that the SEIU has zero credibility to criticize franchisors who are interested in revoking the contracts of their franchisees. The SEIU specializes in aggressive shut-downs of independent subordinates, in California in particular. Numerous SEIU locals in California have been dismembered, abolished, or merged under pressure from SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and her predecessor, the infamous Andy Stern.

    • Henry is currently attempting to shore up her leadership by splitting a chunk of SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) members into a new local with handpicked leadership, Local 2015.
    • Henry placed Workers United, SEIU Local 50 into trusteeship—rule by a handpicked board—after its executive board moved to disaffiliate from SEIU.
    • Stern announced a plan to move thousands of long-term care workers from SEIU UHW and SEIU Local 521 into SEIU Local 6434, under the leadership of handpicked Stern crony Tyrone Freeman. Freeman would later be deposed by the union, charged by the feds, and sentenced to prison for corruption, including allegedly stealing member dues to pay for his wedding in Hawaii.
    • After a very loud dispute with SEIU UHW leader Sal Rosselli over a series of reorganizations (including the Local 6434 reorganization) that reduced Rosselli’s membership ranks, Stern deposed Rosselli and put UHW into trusteeship. Rosselli broke with SEIU and formed his own union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which is now part of the AFL-CIO.
    • SEIU under Andy Stern merged four local janitors’ unions into a new “district council,” SEIU United Service Workers West, which took control of substantial portions of the locals’ finances and curtailed their autonomy.
    • SEIU UHW was formed by the merger of SEIU Local 250 and SEIU Local 399, in accordance with an SEIU policy adopted in the early 2000s that local unions should be consolidated into state- and region-wide mega-locals by industry groups.

    In truth, SEIU is an exceptionally aggressive “franchisor” of its ostensibly autonomous and democratic “local” unions, even as it claims to want to rein in restaurant and other business franchisors. This staggering hypocrisy shows that franchisees should beware of unions, especially when they’re bearing gifts.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsCrime & CorruptionSEIU
  5. Toss Another Dead Front Group on the Pile?

    Dead Front GroupsWe had noticed that United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) front group Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) had gone fairly quiet. Launched amid great fanfare in November 2011, OUR Walmart may now be headed out to pasture. After a change of leadership at UFCW headquarters, the campaign’s focus is moving from a costly ground-level attempt at organizing to a media and advertising effort.

    The first public inkling that all was not well in the supposedly independent UFCW subordinate organization was a report in The Washington Post that headquarters had cut the campaign’s funding in half. Now, it seems that the campaign’s leaders—both UFCW employees on greater than $140,000 annual salaries—are out as well. Buzzfeed reports:

    But its main financial backer, the United Food and Commercial Workers union, has decided to change course. Just weeks before the Walmart shareholders meeting in May, it fired two top leaders of Our Walmart, Dan Schlademan and Andrea Dehlendorf, according to multiple sources outside the union. The two, who did not respond to requests for comment, had been instrumental in leading marches, Black Friday actions, and sit-ins at Walmart stores.

    While the UFCW denies that the moves are a sidelining of the campaign, it looks like OUR Walmart is headed down the path of numerous failed union efforts to pressure Wal-Mart, America’s largest retailer, into unionizing. Here are just a few:

    • Making Change at Walmart: UFCW, 2011-present
    • OUR Walmart: UFCW, 2011-2015?
    • Walmart Workers for Change: UFCW, 2009
    • Wake Up Walmart: UFCW, 2005-2011
    • Wal-Mart Watch: SEIU and UFCW, 2005-2011
    • Walmart Alliance for Reform Now: SEIU-funded, ACORN-operated, 2006-2009
    • Wal-Mart Workers Association: SEIU-funded, ACORN-operated, 2005-2006
    • Walmart Workers of America: UFCW, 2005
    • The People’s Campaign—Justice @ Wal-Mart: UFCW, 2002-2003

    And what have the UFCW and its onetime Change to Win stable-mate the SEIU received for this roll of dead (and dying) front groups? Nothing. Wal-Mart employees have resisted every effort in this period to organize under the UFCW banner.

    There’s a bigger story here as well, one that applies not only to the UFCW’s ongoing decade of failure to unionize Wal-Mart, but also to the larger “alt-labor” or “worker center” trend. The ideas behind alt-labor—hiding union organizing that employees aren’t interested in behind a public pressure campaign—are over a decade old, and they have generally not been successful. It shouldn’t be shocking that the UFCW is shifting away from its OUR Walmart worker center and that backbiting within the SEIU over the unrealized investments in its “Fight for $15” has begun—members aren’t coming in, just as they didn’t come in through “The People’s Campaign—Justice @ Wal-Mart” a decade and a half ago.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsChange To WinSEIUUFCWWorkers Center
  6. High Court Takes Challenge to Randi’s Forced Dues

    GavelThe Supreme Court just agreed to take a major labor union case for its 2015-2016 sitting, titled Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. At stake is the power of public-sector unions like Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to collect forced dues—so-called “agency fees”—from non-members forced to accept their representation in at least 25 states.

    Several employees forced to pay agency fees—the lead plaintiff is elementary school teacher Rebecca Friedrichs—are suing the California Teachers Association (CTA), arguing that requiring public employees to pay any fees to a labor organization that they don’t support violates the First Amendment. Alternatively, if such fees are not facially unconstitutional, the Constitution might require paycheck protection for public employees—an opt-in, rather than opt-out, to paying for public unions’ political programs.

    Current law in the 25 forced-unionism states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and all U.S. Territories other than Guam lets unions force all employees that they represent to pay the portion of dues that applies to collective bargaining. Certain rights to refrain from funding political expenditures that employees disagree with are set by two Supreme Court decisions: Communications Workers of America v. Beck in the private sector and Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson in the public sector. But under Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, public employees can be forced to pay fees for “collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment purposes.”

    That may change. In its opinion in Harris v. Quinn, which struck down the SEIU’s forced “dues skim” from home-healthcare workers in Illinois and several other states, Justice Samuel Alito — writing for a majority of the Court — indicated strongly that he (and, implicitly, the majority of the unchanged Harris court) thought Abood needed to go. The fundamental contradiction at the heart of public-sector unionism, that employees can “elect” management and bargain over what are true public policies, seems to make compelling agency fees from public employees for any purpose equivalent to compelling them for political purposes, which has been long established as unconstitutional.

    Public-sector unions like the CTA’s parent National Education Association (NEA), AFT, AFSCME, and the SEIU are clearly worried about the potential that Abood will be overruled. Politico reports on the unions’ statement: Devoid of legal reasoning or defense of forced dues, it is paint-by-numbers scaremongering:

    “We are disappointed that at a time when big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance, the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America — that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a decent life,” they said.

    Indeed, it does not appear that the unions expect forced dues to survive for long. Mike Antonucci notes that the NEA has already circulated a guide to union finance and organizing in a post-forced-dues world. The Washington Examiner’s Sean Higgins reported that the CTA has been strategizing for “not if, but when” California forbids forced dues.

    Even if the unions win this case, the march of employee rights across the country poses a mortal threat to forced dues. Twenty-five states—up from 22 just three years ago—have enacted right-to-work laws that end all forced dues. Four more—Missouri, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and West Virginia—made serious (albeit unsuccessful) efforts to pass their own right-to-work laws in the most recent legislative sessions.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsPolitical MoneyRight-to-WorkTeachers UnionsUnfair Share
  7. About That Big Labor Union Victory

    facepalmIt’s an emerging Washington pundit-class genre: Big Labor’s big comeback. But as with many Beltway memes, there’s often less than meets the eye. And so it is with the latest round of stories. A couple of weeks ago, we saw the following three headlines after a trade bill lost a procedural vote (from Politico, The New York Times, and The Atlantic, respectively):

    Labor won POLITICO

    Labor's Might NYT

    Big Win Atlantic


    “Labor’s Might.” “Huge win for labor.” “Big Win for Big Labor.” Oh really? Well, not so much, it turns out. The bill that labor blocked (Trade Promotion Authority, which sets rules for final negotiations and approval or rejection of trading arrangements) was revised and just passed Congress, with the President expected to sign it. The big, huge win that revealed labor’s might … lasted all of two weeks.

    Now, if you happened to browse the headlines, you might have missed the reversal. Neither The Atlantic, the New York Times, nor Politico—the sources of the triumphant headlines above—mentioned unions’ defeat in their headlines on the final passage of Trade Promotion Authority Wednesday. The Wall Street Journal recognized the fortnight’s switch in fortunes:

    WSJ Licks Wounds


    After talking tough about cutting off pro-trade Democrats from its political slush funds and suspending contributions until trade was defeated, the AFL-CIO and Richard Trumka have turned the taps back on, acknowledging certain defeat. Despite numerous “hot takes” and think-pieces on how labor was turning a corner, there isn’t evidence that that is happening. The SEIU’s efforts to organize the restaurant industry have seen something like $50 million chase essentially no gain in membership to date. Now the AFL-CIO’s much-ballyhooed “huge win” on trade has evaporated before it sank in. We can be certain that Beltway pundits will proclaim Big Labor’s renaissance again: It’s almost as certain that it will be more rhetoric than reality.


    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsPolitical MoneyUnion Spending
  8. Did Mary Kay Henry Sacrifice Healthcare Workers to Her Political Interests?

    dispute_jpgService Employees International Union officials are throwing accusations at each other over a major power play by national President Mary Kay Henry in California. Henry is fighting with Dave Regan—President of the United Healthcare Workers local and a Vice President on SEIU’s International Executive Board—for control of 70,000 of Regan’s members.

    Henry has ordered Regan’s United Healthcare Workers (UHW) local—the largest union local in California—divided, with 70,000 of Regan’s workers moved into a new union, SEIU Local 2015. The new union will be bigger than UHW. That has Regan spitting fire at his boss, Mary Kay Henry:

    Regan said the local’s leadership first officially heard about the plan to downsize UHW in January, but believes it was hatched last October and has roots in years of enmity between local and national leaders.


    “We are absolutely clear this decision is malicious and undertaken with the full knowledge that the interests of California healthcare workers are being sacrificed to the political needs of Mary Kay Henry,” Regan wrote. “We are ashamed and embarrassed for our Union.”

    The internal squabble which makes a mockery of unions’ claims that democratic leadership elections give members meaningful influence over the organizations’ directions will continue, as the process of creating Local 2015 will begin in the coming months. In many ways, the fight echoes the 2009-10 dispute between Regan, a protégé of then-SEIU President Andy Stern, and Sal Rosselli, whom Stern had deposed as head of UHW and who subsequently ran off to form his own union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers. Rosselli was entertained by Regan’s new predicament:

    When I reached Rosselli by phone, he thoroughly enjoyed the irony of the situation, noting that Regan is now tangling with Henry over the same issue that splintered the union almost seven years ago, whether long-term-care workers are better off in UHW and other broad health care locals or in a specialized unit.

    We can expect more fireworks from both sides in this dispute, as control of tens of thousands of union leadership proxy votes and hundreds of thousands of dollars in dues money are at stake.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsChange To WinSEIU