Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

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  1. Two of the Craziest Labor Stories You’ll Ever Read

    Life is never dull in union America. Earlier this month, George Botts, vice president of New York’s Amalgamated Transit Union Local 726, was caught falsifying time sheets. How’d he get caught? E-ZPass. According to the New York Daily News, Botts was recorded “paying tolls at the same time he was supposed to be performing union duties at a Staten Island bus depot.” The union boss allegedly earned his $32-an-hour bus driver pay for 66 hours and 36 minutes he never actually worked from March 1st to May 20th of last year.

    For lying about his time cards, Botts received a 30-day suspension with restitution. Amanda Kwan, the spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, put out the following statement: “Falsifying time cards is akin to stealing money from the MTA and it is absolutely not tolerated.” The union has remained silent and is expected to reinstate Botts after his month is up.

    But that’s not even the craziest labor story of the past week. At Western Michigan University, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1668 has filed a complaint involving—wait for it—a herd of goats. The problem stems from the university’s decision to use goats to clear poison ivy and other harmful vegetation on school grounds. AFSCME alleges that “the university did not properly notify the union that it was planning on using goat crews around campus” instead of union workers. As Local 1668 President Dennis Moore put it, “AFSCME takes protecting the jobs of its members very seriously.” More goats means fewer jobs.

    Apparently so. While the school choose goats “to stay environmentally friendly” for the second summer in a row, the local union is now fighting the decision tooth-and-nail in court. Never a dull moment.

    Categories: AFSCMECrime & CorruptionHumorLegal
  2. Labor Racket Weekly: More Union Corruption on the Newswires

    As the smoke clears from the 4th of July weekend, more union corruption has appeared on the newswires. Here are this week’s best rackets:

    • In Ohio, Arthur W. Boedecker, former Vice President of Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) Local 270, pled guilty to one count of aggravated theft from a union. On the same date, Boedecker was sentenced to a jail term of three days and fined $500.
    • In Illinois, Scott Alexander and Nancy Alexander, former President and former office administrator, respectively, for Teamsters Local 50, were indicted for embezzlement and wire fraud.
    • In Wisconsin, Estes Evans, former Treasurer of International Association of EMTs and Paramedics Local R7-33, was charged with one count of embezzlement of $44,446 and one count of filing a false report.
    • In Pennsylvania, Stephen A. Royer, former Secretary Treasurer of Machinists Local Lodge 243, pled guilty to one count of embezzlement. The loss amount will be determined at a later date.
    • In Indiana, Michael R. Bennett, former President of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2317, was sentenced to 15 months of incarceration, one year of supervised release, and was also ordered to pay restitution of $18,047 and a $100 special assessment. Bennett previously paid $84,807 in restitution. On November 21, 2016, Bennett pled guilty to one count of wire fraud, for diverting over $100,000 in unions funds for personal use.

    Check back next week for more union wrongdoing.

    Categories: Labor Racket Weekly
  3. Labor Racket Weekly: The Hunt For a Union Bookkeeper

    This week’s cast of characters is uniquely corrupt, and in one case, on the run.

    • In Michigan, Stephanie Marie DeBoer was a bookkeeper and office manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 876 before she was indicted on a charge of embezzlement and theft of union funds. Federal authorities are trying to track down the former union bookkeeper, who was accused of stealing $307,000. She was released last month on a $10,000 unsecured bond after her initial court appearance in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.
    • In Alaska, Ann Reddig, former Secretary-Treasurer of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 918, was charged with one count of embezzling over $193,000 in union funds, and one count of Making a Forged Security.
    • In the District of Columbia, Juan Carlos Recinos, former Business Manager/Secretary-Treasurer of Iron Workers Local 201 was sentenced to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service. He was also ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. Recinos previously paid full restitution of $26,900. On February 24, 2017, Recinos pled guilty to one count of Fraud in the Second Degree.
    • In Michigan, Brenda Schaefer, former Treasurer of National Rural Letter Carriers Association (NRLCA) Local 39, was charged with willful failure to maintain union records.

    Touch base next week for more stories of union corruption.

    Categories: Labor Racket Weekly
  4. Johnny Doc Gets Wiretapped

    For more than a year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wiretapped the cellphones of Philadelphia union boss John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty, who runs the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 98. As part of an ongoing investigation into union corruption, FBI agents also monitored Democratic City Councilman Bobby Henon and Local 98 political director Marita Crawford, and Joseph Ralston, a former investigator with the state Attorney General’s Office.

    According to PhillyVoice, “Henon also has a salaried job with Local 98, and Ralston performed security work for the union.” This could raise serious conflict of interest questions, given their positions in local and state government, respectively. Last summer, FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents searched Dougherty’s office, a nearby union bar, and the IBEW union’s headquarters to gain a better understanding of Local 98’s relationship with Henon and Ralston, in addition to union finances.

    The union has long been one of the country’s most prolific spenders. According to its most recent financial disclosures, Johnny Doc earns more than $406,000 annually, including nearly $227,000 in base salary and $169,000 in “disbursements for official business.” Counting Dougherty, the local union pays 27 employees six-figure incomes using member dues. By contrast, Boston’s IBEW Local 103 pays its president, Louis Antonellis, roughly $154,000 in base salary, with less than $3,000 reserved for business-related spending. Local 98 is also well-known for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on sports tickets and luxury goods. (We covered Local 98’s finances in detail here.)

    It could be another rough summer for Johnny Doc.

    Categories: Crime & CorruptionUnion Spending
  5. The Employee Rights Act Goes to a Hearing

    The House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions recently held a hearing on the Employee Rights Act (ERA) for the first time ever. It is the most significant development with the ERA—the most substantive update to American labor law since the 1940s—since its introduction in 2011. The Center for Union Facts ran an ad in Roll Call on the day of the hearing (see below).

    One of the witnesses was Karen Cox, a blue-collar employee from Illinois who was forced to join the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Workers Union (RWDSU) in 2012. She never received a secret ballot vote, which the ERA would guarantee. RWDSU organizers pressured Karen and her coworkers into publicly signing authorization cards to recognize the union—without a secret ballot vote. When Karen tried to decertify the union, the RWDSU threatened her. You can see Karen’s story here.

    But do union elites have any sympathy? Apparently not. At the hearing, Jody Calemine, general counsel for the Communications Workers of America (CWA), testified that he’s never seen “a bill as extreme and provocative and anti-union and anti-worker as the Employee Rights Act.” The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) claimed that the ERA is “designed to empower billionaires and CEOs, not working people.” The union-funded Center for American Progress even suggested that the legislation is an example of “voter suppression.”

    The “secret ballots suppress voters” argument is an interesting one, to say the least. If the ERA is the most “anti-union” piece of legislation in human history, then why do 80 percent of union household voters support it?

    The next step for the bill is a hearing before the full House Education and Workforce Committee, which will decide whether there’s a floor vote. Employees like Karen Cox are crossing their fingers for one.

     

     

    Categories: Employee Rights ActEnding Secret Ballots
  6. Labor Racket Weekly: Mobsters and Union Bosses

    A Chicago mobster and two union presidents saw their days in court. Here are this week’s best labor rackets:

    • In Texas, Clementine T. Ray, former President of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 2109, pled guilty to a superseding information of false writings.
    • In Illinois, John A. Matassa, Jr., Secretary-Treasurer of Independent Union of Amalgamated Workers Local 711, was charged in an indictment with two counts of wire fraud, two counts of theft of approximately $3,291 in government funds in the form of Old-Age Insurance Benefits, four counts of embezzling $2,959 in union funds, and two counts of making false entries in union records. Matassa is known for his connections to organized crime in Chicago in the 1990s.
    • In New York, David Diaz, former President of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 387, was sentenced to 280 hours of community service in lieu of 60 days in jail and three years of probation. Diaz was also ordered to pay $17,149 in restitution. On March 16, 2017, Diaz pled guilty to Petit Larceny.

    Check back next week for more unionized crime.

    Categories: Labor Racket Weekly
  7. Cash-Strapped Longshoremen’s Union Uses Ghost Workers

    Ghost work. Call it Big Labor’s newest corruption scheme.

    According to news reports out of Florida, the Tampa-based International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Local 1402 is allegedly paying “ghost workers” for dock jobs they don’t perform, at the expense of actual union members. ILA Pension Board Trustee Evan Cotten claims to have uncovered the problem last year by tracking longshoremen time sheets and the movement of cargo and supplies on and off the docks of Port Tampa Bay. Cotten explains, “A lot of money is involved that has been distributed to people who didn’t earn it and a lot of people have been deprived of that money. I think it’s criminal.”

    How bad is it? The ghost worker problem could go back at least five years, as Cotten has uncovered seven or eight such cases.

    One potential explanation is that inflating the number of employees on payroll limits individual pension payouts. Longshoreman routinely compete for jobs and hours. Their benefits improve as they accumulate hours and perform more dock jobs. Ghost workers increase competition for these jobs, making it more difficult for actual union members to work, reach thresholds, and accrue benefits. As Cotten puts it: “Failure to reach 700 [annual hours] by one hour will mean hundreds or thousands of dollars over the course of a year and it will mean his seniority position, his work ranking, his health benefits and eventually, his pension benefit.”

    Local 1402’s pension is woefully underfunded, giving union officials an incentive to cut back on payments. Records indicate that administrative expenses for the Local 1402 pension fund in 2010 were $509,528, compared to employer contributions of $393,110 that same year. That red ink is real.

    Categories: Crime & CorruptionEntitlements CrisisUnion Spending
  8. Congress Reintroduces the Employee Rights Act

    The Employee Rights Act (ERA) is back. Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) recently reintroduced the ERA, the most comprehensive update to American labor law since the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Last session, 170 members of Congress co-sponsored the legislation, including 33 U.S. senators. (Learn more here.)

    The ERA protects workers from abusive union leadership with eight pro-employee reforms. Among other provisions, the bill would require secret ballot union elections and allow employees to periodically re-assess their union representation. Less than 10 percent of union members ever voted for the union currently “representing” them. Those who did were not guaranteed the right to a private vote. Moreover, union officials are not required to hold recertification elections, which leaves many employees “represented” by union officials they never even voted for. The ERA would make every union vote a private one and make it easier for employees to leave an out-of-touch union.

    Less than one percent of local unions get voted out each year. Yet polling shows that 75 percent of current and past union members have a negative view of union leadership, suggesting that decertification rates should be much higher. The system is broken.

    The ERA would also prevent union officials from spending member dues on political advocacy without prior approval. Since 2012, union officials have sent more than $530 million to the Democratic Party and liberal special interest groups, even though 40 percent of those in union households vote Republican in any given election cycle. The bill would allow employees to have an affirmative say before funding political advocacy efforts they might not agree with.

    Union-backed liberal think tanks like the Economic Policy Institute (EcPI) predictably attack the ERA, criticizing a provision that requires union officials to win the support of the majority of all eligible workers before unionizing a workplace. But their criticism doesn’t pass the smell test. Voting for a union isn’t like voting for a member of Congress. Unlike regular voters, employees are deciding whether to have monthly dues taken out of their paycheck, so union representation is a much more directly personal issue than electoral voting. Regular voters also have a guaranteed opportunity to vote for their members of Congress every two years. Employees have no such option in a union workplace. When less than one percent of unions get voted out despite high disapproval, employees need more legal protections.

    National and regional polls show that 80 percent of those in union households support the ERA’s key provisions. The bill is so popular that the Heritage FoundationAmericans for ProsperityFreedom Foundation, and Workplace Fairness Institute have already endorsed it. As Congressman Roe says: “The Employee Rights Act isn’t pro- or anti-union, it’s a common-sense measure to ensure a transparent and fair workplace.”

    Congress, let’s make it happen.

    Categories: Employee Rights Act