Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

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  1. Do You Feel as Lucky as a Union Boss?

    Yesterday, our project challenged teachers and New York Post readers to test how their salary stacks up to that of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. Noting that on St. Patrick’s Day (and every other day) Weingarten is “Seeing Green” from her $557,000-plus salary and expenses package, we’re showing the following ad:AFT_NY_POST_StPatty_FINAL_OL

    You can also see how your salary stacks up by using our calculator. You’ll learn:

    • Where your pay ranks among the AFT’s headquarters employees, 185 of whom make six figures;
    • What your salary equates to as a percentage of Randi’s total half-million-plus haul; and
    • How many multiples of your salary the AFT spends on lobbying and politics.

    So head on over to and take the challenge. Then ask Randi why—despite making roughly 10 times what the Department of Education reports the average public schoolteacher makes—she opposes reforms that would give the best teachers more money.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers Unions
  2. Stay Classy, Big Labor

    fistsIt’s been a rough week for union bosses and their political patrons: On Monday, Wisconsin enacted a right-to-work law that forbids the conditioning of employment on the payment of union dues or fees, meaning that half of the states now forbid the so-called “agency shop.” Union bosses, activists, and union-funded politicians are taking the news about as well as would be expected, plumbing the depths of obscene references and insults, as the nonprofit MacIver Institute has chronicled here (mild content warning for obscene language).

    Now, the lack of decency goes all the way to the top. Vice President Joe Biden, speaking at the national convention of the International Association of Fire Fighters, criticized people who oppose the National Labor Relations Board’s recent “quickie election” labor favor in some very bold words:

    Biden denounced those blocking the National Labor Relations Board’s attempts “to enforce the basic rules of the road,” saying, “They’re not looking for striped shirts, guys. They’re looking for blackshirts, not referees.”


    The blackshirts were paramilitary forces loyal to the Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

    This comparison of sincere critics of Administration policies concocted to serve the President’s big-money union backers to war criminals can be expected from union bosses used to hyperbolic attacks on popular employee rights reforms. But a closer analysis reveals that the real assault on employee rights is coming not from those trying to hem in the NLRB’s overreach but from the Board itself. Consider the recent NLRB labor favors:

    • Forcing employees to hand over personal private telephone, email, and other contact information to union organizers and union bosses;
    • Accelerating election processes so that employees only hear the union side before voting; and
    • Opening the door for card-check unionization of chain restaurant workers through a questionable theory of “joint employment” with national brands that would overturn 35 years of legal precedent.

    These all empower union bosses at the expense of employees, making it easier for organizers to turn employees into dues payers. But on matters of discourse, Biden—and his supporters in Big Labor—should take some advice from a prominent person who spoke to Drake University students last month. That person said, “I want to be clear […] our opponents are not bad guys.” In short, he argued that people can disagree without being disagreeable.

    That person was Vice President Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActNLRBRight-to-Work
  3. Wisconsin Could Be a Tipping Point for Employee Rights

    Flickr-Photo-Download_-Help-Wanted...-1.jpgToday, Wisconsin became the 25th right-to-work state when Governor Scott Walker signed SB 44, which passed the Wisconsin Assembly last Friday. The measure, which prohibits the conditioning of employment on the payment of union dues or fees, means that half of the states now have laws prohibiting the so-called “union shop” or “agency shop.” This truly is a tipping point for employee rights.

    Additionally, with Wisconsin joining the ranks of the right to work states, about 48 percent of Americans—over 150 million people—live in right-to-work states. (If Missouri adopts right-to-work as it is considering doing, a majority would.) While unions and their political patrons ridiculously claim that right-to-work is a radical proposition that will kill your babies or lead to mass employee deaths, the widespread adoption of employee-empowering laws clearly shows that these predictions are more drama than fact. In truth, right-to-work states have higher rates of jobs growth.

    While these laws do not solve all the problems of union abuses, they are a symbolic move to put employees ahead of union bosses in the workplace. But now that employee rights are at a tipping point, it’s time for the federal government to stand up and bring American labor laws out of the 1940s. The Employee Rights Act (ERA), a package of seven (very popular) reforms proposed in the last Congress, would ensure employee privacy and protect employees against threats and intimidation.

    While right-to-work guarantees employees’ financial freedoms, ERA protects their freedom from coercion by unions, their freedom to make private decisions, and their freedom to refrain from giving personal private information to union bosses. While the Obama Administration expands union privilege, Congress has the opportunity to take a stand for employee rights. When ERA is reintroduced, members must make the effort to push for these common-sense measures or explain why they oppose individual freedom in the workplace.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActRight-to-Work
  4. Randi’s Pet Charter School Closes

    3409642414_a401c0d007.jpgBack in 2005, then-United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Randi Weingarten, now president of the national American Federation of Teachers (AFT), opened a (unionized) charter school in Brooklyn. She stated its purpose: “Our schools will show real, quantifiable student achievement and with those results, finally dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success.”

    Ten years later, the poor performance of the UFT charter school—one of the worst-rated in the city—suggests that the notion of union roadblocks to success wasn’t so “misguided and simplistic” after all.

    The UFT’s K-8 charter school announced this week that it is closing. That isn’t necessarily bad for the students: A review by the State University of New York Charter Institute, which sponsored the UFT’s charter application, found that the school had “poor” educational outcomes in the middle school grades.

    This poor grade wasn’t a fluke: The school had done poorly on previous city reviews. Chalkbeat reported in 2012:

    But seven years into its existence, the nation’s first union-run school is one of the lowest-performing schools in the city. Fewer than a third of students are reading on grade level, and the math proficiency rate among eighth-graders is less than half the city average.


    On the school’s most recent progress report, released last week, the [NYC] Department of Education gave it a D and ranked it even lower than one of its co-located neighbors, J.H.S. 166, which the city tried to close last year and now has shortlisted again for possible closure.

    There’s an important lesson here: Just calling a school a “charter school” doesn’t mean that it comes with the benefits charter advocates hope for. For real gains to be made, charter schools need the advantages in flexibility and competition they have over traditional district schools—advantages opposed by teachers unions. To the extent charter schools allow principals and administrators to engage in flexible decision making—including flexible decision making in human resources policy forbidden by union contracts—they are an improvement on traditional district schools. But as the AFT and the other national teachers union engage in campaigns to unionize the mostly union-free sector, charter advocates may shortly see that a crucial element to school success is keeping Randi and her minions away.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAFTCenter for Union FactsTeachers Unions
  5. Wage Hike not Good Enough When the Goal Is a Union

    walmartEarlier this week, Wal-Mart issued a directive raising base pay at the company’s stores to $9 per hour for new hires and $10 per hour for current employees. If the complaints of the “Organization United for Respect At Walmart” (OUR Walmart) were really about the company’s pay being too low, you might expect at least a grudging acknowledgment that employees’ situations would be helped some by this private action.

    But OUR Walmart isn’t a grassroots effort to raise pay: It’s a well-connected union-organized campaign that will never be satisfied until Wal-Mart has agreed to “neutrality” (unions’ P.R.-tested name for public card check) and employees are dues-paying members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). (To wit: The UFCW wouldn’t put $240,614 into a media blitz for its campaign unless it expected to get a return.)

    And when potentially millions in dues money is on the line, no compromise is good enough. In fact, the goal posts must move. The New York Times reports on where they’re going now:

    With some progress on the hourly wage front, labor activists are highlighting another longstanding demand: more hours — and more consistent hours — for hourly-wage workers like Mr. Rodriguez, something they say will make as much a difference to workers’ pocketbooks as an increase in wages.

    (Funny—we can remember a time when unions restricted workers’ hours so that more people were employed to cover all shifts. Of course, that was for an already-unionized business, so more people employed meant more people paying dues.)

    Because Wal-Mart has independently acted to alleviate one UFCW front group complaint, another comes to the fore. It’s a clever strategy that unfortunately might snooker media outlets that already breathlessly (and incorrectly) reported that OUR Walmart’s protests were “strikes”—when, in reality, a meaningless number of employees were walking off the job.

    Categories: Anti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsUFCWWorkers Center
  6. Will Wisconsin Be Number Twenty-Five?

    thumbs upBig news from the frozen tundra of Wisconsin: Legislators are calling a special session to advance a right-to-work measure. Following reforms permitting employees to refrain from funding unions in Indiana and Michigan, the state legislature has indicated that it will pass the measure and Governor Scott Walker has said he will sign it. Wisconsin would bring up the half-way mark for right-to-work laws, being the 25th state to ban so-called “agency shop” contracts requiring employees to fund labor unions in order to keep their jobs.

    Union bosses reeling from the effects of employee-empowering reforms to public-sector workplaces in the state are naturally outraged, with some activists calling for a French-style “general strike.” But with the law likely to pass over their hollering, what lies in store for labor in the Badger State? While union bosses claim imminent doom, the facts show that right-to-work offers unions a choice: Continue the status quo and suffer membership declines, or adopt a new model of representative unionism and preserve influence.

    Consider Nevada, which adopted a right-to-work law in the 1950s (and sustained it against multiple union-backed repeal efforts). Until Michigan passed right-to-work in 2012, Nevada was the most unionized right-to-work state, and the state remains highly unionized (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14.4 percent of Nevada workers are union members, good for the 11th most-union state). In short, since the unions in Nevada have convinced employees that union representation helps them, they haven’t suffered the declines that unions in the Midwest have. (It also helps that union demands haven’t helped drive the casino industry into bankruptcy, as happened with some Midwest manufacturing.)

    However, there are important employee rights that right-to-work laws don’t affect. Card-check will still be permitted, allowing unions to organize without a private vote. This matters because even though right-to-work allows nonmembers to refrain from funding the union, unions still have a privilege they demanded in federal labor law—exclusive representation, which requires all grievances and contract negotiation to go through the union. And if an employee wishes to get the union out, he or she would still need to follow the onerous and intimidation-laced decertification process, since an organized union has perpetual tenure.

    If employee rights advocates want to continue the momentum from Indiana, Michigan, and now Wisconsin, they should call for the federal Employee Rights Act, which takes a wider view of employee rights and restricting union privilege than right-to-work alone. Among other reforms, it requires secret ballot votes to unionize, protects employees against coercion when decertifying a union, and grants employees the periodic right to a vote on whether to keep an established union. Each of its reforms is supported by more than 75 percent of Americans and guarantees new rights to employees to bring employment relations—which haven’t been significantly updated since the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947—into the 21st Century.

    Categories: AFL-CIOCenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActRight-to-WorkSEIU
  7. What Is One Union Hiding?

    ba planeThe Daily Caller got wind of a curious decision by Transportation Workers Union Local 577, which was certified in 2010 to represent flight attendants for Allegiant Air. Apparently, TWU 577 hasn’t been filing financial reports with the Office of Labor-Management Standards. The Caller reports:

    In the letter, which was obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation, the advocacy group Americans For Limited Government Research Foundation detailed to the U.S. Department of Labor that Local 577 of the Transport Workers has failed for years to disclose its financial records. Local 577 represents Allegiant Air flight attendants. […]


    “Whether a contract is ratified is irrelevant under the LMRDA when determining whether a local labor organization is covered by the Act,” [ALGRF President Nathan] Mehrens told TheDCNF. “If TWU didn’t want to follow the LMRDA’s requirements for local labor organizations, it should not have created Local 577.”

    Basically, the union got certified and then negotiations began, but the first contract has not yet been agreed. So TWU 577 remains the certified representative, but no contract is yet in force. TWU argues unconvincingly that this allows TWU’s national office to include Local 577’s expenses on its own reports.

    So why might a relatively ineffective union like TWU 577 (which, recall, hasn’t completed a contract negotiation despite having years to cut a deal) want to hide its expenditures? Simple: It might lead members to believe their dues money isn’t being used effectively. Our organization and others have caught the national American Federation of Teachers spending six figures on limousines, UNITE HERE channeling money to the mayoral campaign of a senior officer’s cousin, and the SEIU spending tens of millions Astroturfing campaigns against restaurants.

    And while it’s unlikely that TWU Local 577 would have anything of that nature to hide from prying eyes, local unions can have embarrassing open secrets too. Numerous union locals are largely controlled by members of the same family, and this can mean big bucks for the lucky clans. We can’t know what TWU 577 might be trying to obscure with its creative recordkeeping tactics, but union members deserve at the very least the transparency that federal law requires.

    Categories: Center for Union Facts
  8. An NPR ‘Miss’ On Labor Unions and the Minimum Wage

    CUFDinosaurA recent National Public Radio (NPR) report looked curiously at the phenomenon of unions pushing for radical minimum wage increases (including in some cases a more-than-doubling of the current minimums). Correspondent Ben Bergman notes that few workers who make the minimum are unionized, and he asks what unions stand to gain from their campaigns.

    We can help him figure that out. For one, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and similar unions for service workers like the hotel and restaurant divisions of Unite HERE have plenty of bargaining units with employees under, at, or around the proposed new minimum wage level. Others have guaranteed premiums over the statutory minimum, as we have detailed previously.

    Unions also have greener reasons to push massive wage hikes. The “fight for $15” worker center/minimum wage campaign is a multimillion-dollar project of SEIU, and the end goal includes paying off this “investment” with more union dues. As a result, in addition to minimum wage messaging the campaign comes with creating “Worker Organizing Committees” that file complaints with the National Labor Relations Board designed at least in part to make fast food restaurants easier to unionize. The Manhattan Institute estimated SEIU’s potential payoff from unionizing half of McDonald’s and McDonald’s franchise employees alone at $100 million per year.

    And if that doesn’t work, there’s another way to turn a doubled minimum wage into more union dues. Minimum wage and so-called “living wage” laws often contain exceptions for collective bargaining agreements. Maxford Nielson of the Freedom Foundation explains:

    Los Angeles became the latest to join the movement when the city council approved a law on Sept. 24 requiring large hotels to pay employees at least $15.37 per hour and provide generous paid sick-leave benefits. But the ordinance includes a provision, increasingly common in similar ordinances, that permits unions to waive the requirements in collective bargaining.


    This waiver enables labor organizers to approach a nonunion employer struggling to pay the new minimum with the following offer: assist them in unionizing employees by signing a “neutrality agreement,” in return for which the union will use the collective-bargaining waiver to allow the employer to pay less than the new statutory minimum.

    The only winners? The union bosses whose salaries keep flowing.

    Categories: AFL-CIOAnti-Corporate CampaignsCenter for Union FactsChange To WinPolitical MoneySEIUUnion SpendingWorkers Center