Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

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  1. 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before, American labor law hasn’t been substantially updated since the 1940s, leaving employees to labor under outdated workplace rules that favor union bosses instead of the rank-and-file.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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. Teachers Unions’ Political Money Making Members Miffed

    shutterstock_51565708 (1) (1)We’ve noted that in past elections, roughly 40 percent of union households have tended to vote Republican while 90 percent of union political go to Democrats or left-wing causes. Now, some union Democrats are learning why that system is fundamentally unfair: They and their union bosses don’t like the same candidate either.

    Union leaders like American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten quickly lined up behind the candidacy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with some endorsements (including Weingarten’s) coming before the primary debates even began. Rank-and-file union members had different ideas, as Politico reports:

    [Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders] received more than 9,000 donations and raised more than $413,000 from people who identified themselves as teachers or educators, surpassing the $394,000 raised by Clinton from about 4,500 such donors during the same month.


    The division between leaders and rank-and-file members of teachers unions reflects a campaign in which Clinton has won overwhelming support from leaders of Democratic constituencies but struggled to beat back the Sanders challenge among average voters.

    Unfortunately for those teacher union members who contributed to Sanders, their dues (and optional PAC checkoffs, if selected) are supporting Clinton (the National Education Association also endorsed her). This is a predictable consequence of a system that requires union members to subsidize union political operations rather than making those operations opt-in. The Employee Rights Act (ERA), a piece of legislation currently before Congress, would require unions to obtain affirmative consent before using dues money for political purposes.

    And those operations are extensive. In total, from 2012-2014 unions reported roughly $420 million in contributions and expenditures to politically involved organizations on their Department of Labor disclosures. A substantial proportion of that spending came from member dues and supported key allies of union-boss favorites.

    The Center for Union Facts is exempt from federal income tax under §501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not support or oppose candidates for public office.

    Categories: AFTCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActPolitical MoneyUnion Spending
  6. Union Members Speak Out Against NYC Construction Union

    Today, the Center for Union Facts’ released a new video and a new radio ad featuring members of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 14-14B—a member union of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York (BCTC)—who are suing the union for racial discrimination. Averil Morrison, Janenne Gonzalez, and Delisa Jones, three of the five non-white union members suing Local 14-14B, are speaking out about how the union disproportionately advantages white construction workers.

    You can hear their stories by watching the video below:

    The results of the alleged actions of Local 14-14B and other New York construction unions can be seen in the statistics. According to an analysis of Census Bureau data, black union construction workers make $5.74 less per hour on average than white construction workers in New York City.

    Morrison and her fellow union members’ case will be heard in court this spring. We hope it will shine a light on how the discrepancies between white and non-white union construction workers have been perpetuated by the construction unions.

    Categories: AFL-CIOBuilding and Construction Trades CouncilUnfair Share
  7. Philadelphia NLRB Regional Director Suspended After Conflict-of-Interest Allegations

    see no speak no hear noThe National Labor Relations Board—the supposed “referee” interpreting and applying labor law—is hardly impartial, given its tradition of overturning precedent in order to pay favors to labor union bosses. But usually, appointees at least pretend to impartiality, resigning their positions with the SEIU, AFL-CIO, or the International Union of Operating Engineers (a local of which was named in a civil RICO suit) before taking on their new government roles.

    The Philadelphia Regional Director of the NLRB, Dennis Walsh (a former member of the NLRB), was even more brazen—he held the chairmanship of a labor-funded advocacy group, the Peggy Browning Fund (PBF), even after his appointment as Regional Director in 2013. In 2015 union fiscal years, labor unions that file LM-2s with the Department of Labor contributed $217,700 to PBF. A business agent of one of those unions, Steamfitters Local 638, received an award personally presented by Walsh from the PBF, to give an idea of how close the unions and PBF are.

    Walsh’s affiliation with PBF drew the attention of Philadelphia labor lawyer Wally Zimolong, who sent a letter protesting Walsh’s double-jobbing to members of Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation. Since Walsh hobnobbed with and may have solicited donations to the Fund from assorted Philadelphia area union bosses—locals of the Service Employees International Union, United Steelworkers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the United Association (of Plumbers and Pipefitters) were sponsors of one PBF event in March 2014—Walsh could not reasonably be expected to be impartial when those unions were being investigated or were requesting investigations by the Philadelphia Region. Zimolong alleged that Walsh did not even inform the NLRB’s ethics officers of his relationship with the Fund and the unions that work with it.

    That would be suspicious in itself, but the NLRB ultimately disciplined Walsh, who has been dropped from the Peggy Browning Fund board. (Walsh’s replacement as board chair is the national general counsel of the United Steelworkers.) The Philadelphia Business Journal reports that from December 13 through mid-January, Walsh served a 30-day unpaid suspension.

    While confidentiality rules prohibit the NLRB from confirming why he was punished, Walsh’s more-than-apparent conflict of interest created by his Peggy Browning Fund chairmanship surely didn’t help. But if he was disciplined for partiality, Walsh’s real sin wasn’t union partisanship—it was being too obvious about it and getting caught. After all, he’s now back on the job, “investigating” the unions that once sent their bosses to get awards from him, and other NLRB members and directors are just as union-partial as Walsh is.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsNLRB
  8. SEIU Bigwigs Ask Where the New Members Are

    Since 2012, the Service Employees International Union has been following an approach to stalling the decline of union membership in the private sector that centers on “fast food strikes” organized by public relations firms, worker centers, and proto-labor-unions called “worker organizing committees.” The basic idea? Phase one, make noise; Phase three, new union members.

    The problem is phase two. Currently, SEIU leadership (including union president Mary Kay Henry) is satisfied to collect legislative wins, but the sheer rate of spending combined with real-world declines in union membership are leading some of Henry’s colleagues to start questioning how long the current plan can last. Bloomberg News quotes Henry’s predecessor, Andy Stern, raising questions about the sustainability of SEIU’s strategy:

    Just as AARP relies on the money it makes in royalties from licensing insurance and other products, SEIU needs to find a funding stream to pay for its social-justice work, says Andy Stern, who preceded Henry as SEIU president. The union can’t just keep transferring revenue it makes from bargaining contracts to pay for its social justice work, Stern says, “because collective bargaining is shrinking.”

    Indeed, since the “Fight for 15” started in 2012, an analysis of SEIU’s annual LM-2 reports with the Department of Labor shows SEIU has spent tens of millions of dollars—potentially as high as $80 million—with no substantial net gain in membership to show for it. Indeed, from 2014 to 2015, the union actually lost 5,800 members.

    SEIU Fast Food Spending 2015

    While the SEIU continues to bet that the union-packed National Labor Relations Board will open the door to an intimidation-laced card-check unionization of fast food employees, Henry allies are arguing that growing membership, collecting dues, and conducting collective bargaining is less important. But throwing large amounts of money for no new members and losing patience doomed the United Food and Commercial Workers’ OUR Walmart campaign, which split in two last year with considerable acrimony.

    While SEIU’s effort has managed to ride off legislative and lobbying wins so far, it remains to be seen how long the union can continue to burn member dues without return on investment.

    Categories: Center for Union FactsChange To WinNLRBSEIUWorkers Center