Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

  1. Boston Petition Withdrawal Shows CWA’s CODE is Flawed

    The Communications Workers of America (CWA) was built on the 20th-century telephone industry, but has recently turned its focus to the 21st century digital workforce. The union’s Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE) “is a network of worker-organizers and their staff working every single day to build the voice and power necessary to ensure the future of the tech, game, and digital industries in the United States and Canada.”

    But like a boomer dad trying out a pair of skinny jeans, the union’s mid-life re-brand doesn’t look half as good as it thinks.

    The latest example comes from Boston, where the CWA today withdrew a petition to organize the video game studio Proletariat. The union announced the campaign to organize the video game studio just weeks ago. In its press release at the time, CWA said the outcome was all-but-certain, and suggested the company dispense with a secret ballot vote and recognize the union:

    A supermajority of workers at Activision Blizzard’s Proletariat studio have announced that they are forming the Proletariat Workers Alliance/CWA and have filed for a union representation election with the National Labor Relations Board. Prior to filing for an election, the workers asked that management voluntarily recognize their union and respect their right to organize without retaliation or interference.
    To Proletariat’s credit, it declined the union’s invitation, and instead asked for an “anonymous voting process” to ensure everyone’s voice was heard. If that seems like a reasonable and pro-worker request, you’re not thinking like a CWA organizer. The union’s organizing committee went ballistic, launching a Twitter rant that said the company’s mild-mannered statement was “right out of the union-busting playbook.”

    In a revealing lament, it said the company was “forcing” an election. This is reminiscent of union leader Bruce Raynor’s infamous quote that “there’s no reason to subject the workers to an election.” Here in the United States, anyway, we tend to prefer making decisions through elections rather than the alternative.

    In the case of Proletariat, the employees themselves felt differently than their loud counterparts on Twitter. Shortly after the organizing committee’s eruption, it posted the mother of all walk-backs. As it turns out, “we, the workers of Proletariat”–to use the organizing committee’s phrase–were not as wild about a union.

    That tweet was the beginning of the end. A week later, the petition was withdrawn, but even in defeat the union lashed out. Workers were “demoralized and disempowered,” the union’s organizing committee alleged. More likely, the union felt demoralized and disempowered when it found out that workers didn’t want what it was selling.

    Perhaps next time, they’ll think before they tweet.

    Categories: CWA
  2. 11 NY Building Trades Officials Plead Guilty in Corruption Investigation

    It looks like some union bosses got nothing but coal in their stocking this Christmas. Earlier this month, it was announced that 11 former union officials, including James Cahill, former President of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council (BCTC), pleaded guilty to “charges stemming from their acceptance of bribes and illegal cash payments from a construction contractor.” The illegal payments were ongoing for two years from about October 2018 to October 2020 when the defendants were active union officials.

    The press release regarding the convictions describes union officials who “sold out” their hard-working members by “accepting bribes and cash payments in restaurant bathrooms.” This “shocking level of corruption” went all the way to the top of the union.

    According to the investigation, James Cahill — former president of the New York State BCTC which represents 200,000 unionized construction workers — accepted approximately $44,500 in bribes. He also acknowledged accepting at least $100,000 of additional bribes in connection with his union positions. Other convicted officials accepted tens of thousands of dollars in cash bribes.

    The goal of the bribes was to ensure that the relevant union would support the employer’s bids on various projects, and that the union would consider signing the employer to “favorable” labor agreements, including ones that would pay union workers lower rates than their experience merited. The union would also allow the employer to falsely claim to developers that it employed union workers.

    Cahill was reportedly the “leader of the conspiracy” who advised the employer that they could “reap the benefits of being associated with the unions without actually signing union agreements or employing union workers.”

    US Attorney Damian Williams summed up the investigation:

    “The defendants exploited their union positions and hard-working union members to feed their own greed.  They accepted bribes to corruptly favor non-union employers and influence the construction trade in New York.  The convictions in this case reflect our continuing commitment to root out corruption and bring to justice those who abuse positions of power out of personal greed.”

    With such a widespread corruption scheme, it sounds like the BCTC could be following in the footsteps of the United Auto Workers. We’ll keep an eye out on any further developments in the investigation, but for the sake of union members let’s hope the corruption at the BCTC is coming to an end.

    Categories: Building and Construction Trades CouncilCrime & Corruption
  3. UAW Election Shake Up Could Mean a New Status Quo

    The election results for the United Auto Workers International Executive Board members are in, and it doesn’t look good for the union’s entrenched officials.

    According to the unofficial election results listed on the court-appointed monitor’s website, five of the seven members of the UAW Members United slate won their races. This slate has been the main challenger to the status quo at the union, with its candidates running on a platform of “no concessions” and “no corruption.”

    Overall, challengers took six of 14 open seats on the union’s International Executive Board.  According to the union’s constitution, winning the presidency requires gaining a majority of votes. None of the five presidential candidates accomplished this goal. Ray Curry, the current president, and Shawn Fain of the UAW Members United Slate, were the front runners with Curry leading by a mere 614 votes. And so their race will go to a runoff.

    If Fain and Daniel Vicente (Region 9 Director candidate) are both successful in their runoff elections, these upstarts will have majority control of the IEB, not to mention the presidency. This would almost certainly mean big changes at the union. The UAW Members United slate lists restoring “integrity, accountability, and transparency to the UAW” as its number one platform stance.

    Leaders were directly elected – instead of chosen by the union’s delegate system – for the first time in decades. A majority of union members voted to switch to direct elections following the UAW’s wide-scale corruption scandal. The election itself was part of the union’s settlement deal with the federal government.

    Newly elected leaders will be sworn in on December 12. As for the runoff elections, ballots will be mailed Jan. 12 and must be returned by Feb. 28.

    It’s obvious the old guard at the union was in need of a change. Despite several officials going to prison, including two former union presidents, the UAW’s commitment to reform remained questionable. The latest report from the independent monitor alleged that union officials obstructed his investigation into wrongdoing at the UAW. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

    But a big question remains: Will this shake up at the UAW successfully weed out corruption and finally put members’ interests first? Only time will tell.  

    Categories: UAW
  4. CUF Billboard Campaign Educates on UAW Corruption

    This week, the Center for Union Facts is putting up billboards in Lordstown, Ohio. The two billboards are part of an ongoing campaign to educate workers and the public on the United Auto Workers’ track record. One warns that the UAW is under federal oversight after a corruption scandal. The other notes that a federal investigation put several UAW officials behind bars.

    You can see each billboard here and here.

    Over the summer, CUF placed a similar mobile billboard outside of the UAW’s Constitutional Convention in Detroit, Michigan. The billboard was in response to an update filed by the UAW’s court-appointed monitor. The report details how union leaders allegedly obstructed his investigation into wrongdoing at the union and even concealed crucial evidence.

    The union seems to think it can outrun its bad reputation, but autoworkers and the public deserve to know the truth about the UAW’s track record.

    Workers are currently awaiting the results of the first direct election of the UAW’s International Executive Board in decades. Is the union’s status quo about to change, or will it be more of the same at the UAW?

    Categories: UAW
  5. Reps Foxx and Allen Call For Greater OLMS Oversight

    This week, Education and Labor Committee Republican Leader Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee Republican Leader Rick Allen (R-GA) sent a letter requesting the Government Accountability Office (GAO) review the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) and its enforcement activities.

    Labor unions are required to file financial information with OLMS under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA). But it’s unclear to what extent OLMS is currently enforcing these reporting standards. According to Representatives Foxx and Allen, the GAO has not issued a comprehensive report on OLMS in 22 years.

    But union members deserve transparency when it comes to how their hard-earned dues money is spent. That’s why Foxx and Allen are requesting the GAO:

    • Describe how OLMS ensures compliance with the LMRDA’s public-reporting requirements for forms LM-1, LM-2, LM-3, LM-4, LM-15, and LM-16, including the extent to which filings are complete and accurate;
    • Assess how OLMS conducts compliance audits and investigations—including methodology used, the way it uses resources, and its results and achievements;
    • Evaluate OLMS education and compliance assistance efforts to assist unions in complying with the LMRDA’s requirements.

    As the members note: “The LMRDA was enacted to protect union members by ensuring the transparency, democracy, and financial integrity they need to make informed decisions about their membership in a union and to understand their union’s operations.”

    It’s no secret unions aren’t always the best arbiters of members’ funds. Just look at the UAW — several high ranking officials recently went to prison for a wide-scale corruption scandal that included embezzling hundreds of thousands of members’ dues dollars. For the sake of union members across the country, let’s hope we get better insight to OLMS enforcement sooner rather than later.

    Categories: DOL
  6. Labor Racket Weekly: No Treats, Just Tricks

    It’s not Halloween without some terrifying tricks from union bosses around the country. Check out the latest labor rackets below.

    In Georgia, Savannah Division, Connie Deal, former bookkeeper for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 508 (located in Savannah, Ga.), was sentenced to 12 months of probation. Deal was also ordered to pay $22,982 in restitution. On May 11, 2022, Deal pleaded guilty to one count of making false entries.

    In Massachusetts, Frank Loconte, former NER Construction Management President, was indicted with four counts of mail fraud, one count of theft from an employee benefit plan, and four counts of false ERISA statements, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1341, 664, and 1027, respectively, which resulted in a total loss of $1,094,504 to the Massachusetts and Northern New England Laborers’ District Council of the Laborers International Union of North America and the Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen Local 3. Additionally, Loconte was charged with four counts of failure to collect or pay over taxes totaling $3,096,931.

    In Texas, Jeannette Simmons, former bookkeeper for Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) Southwest Gulf Coast Regional Council (located in San Antonio, Tex.), pleaded guilty to one count of misapplication of fiduciary property in the amount greater than $30,000 and less than $150,000.

    In Louisiana, Wilbert Barnes, former Recording Secretary of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1362 (located in Bogalusa, La.), was charged in an information with making a false entry in a union record.

    In the District of Columbia, Melba Norris, an associate of a former employee of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) (located in Washington, D.C.), was sentenced to six months in prison followed by 24 months of probation. Norris was also ordered to pay $37,007 in restitution. On May 5, 2022, Norris pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement and one count of conspiracy to embezzle union funds.

    In New York (SDNY), John DeFalco, former Vice President of Carpenters Local 157 (located in New York, N.Y.), was sentenced to three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay $148,213 in restitution as well as $149,735 in forfeiture. On June 25, 2019, DeFalco and Salvatore Tagliaferro, former President of Carpenters Local 926 (located in Brooklyn, N.Y.) and a New York City District Council of Carpenters Representative, were indicted as co-conspirators on multiple charges for a scheme to sell union “books” or membership cards (union property) in exchange for cash bribes. On October 27, 2020, DeFalco pleaded guilty to conspiracy, conversion of union assets, honest services wire fraud, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, false statements, and distribution of oxycodone, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 371; 29 U.S.C. 501(c) and 18 U.S.C. 2; 18 U.S.C. 1343, 1346 and 2; 18 U.S.C. 1512 (b)(1) and 2; 18 U.S.C. 1512(b)(2)(A) and 2; 18 U.S.C. 1001; and 21 U.S.C. 812, 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C). In 2021, following a jury trial, Tagliaferro was found guilty of conspiracy, conversion of union assets, and honest services wire fraud, sentenced to five years in prison, and was ordered to pay $145,065 in restitution and $296,400 in forfeiture.

    In Virginia, Roanoke Division, Albert Jennings, former Financial Secretary-Treasurer of Transportation Communications Union (TCU) Lodge 6061 (located in Roanoke, Va.), pleaded guilty to one count of embezzling $39,331 from the union.

    In the District of Columbia, James Bradley, an associate of a former employee of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National Union (located in Washington, D.C.), was charged in a criminal information with one count of conspiracy to embezzle $205,421 from the union.

    In Texas, Anthony Landin, former Secretary-Treasurer of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 6110 (located in Laredo, Tex.), was indicted for embezzlement of union funds in the amount of $18,328.

    In Louisiana, Dusty Diffey, former Financial Secretary of United Steelworkers Local 253M (located in Simsboro, La.), was charged in a bill of information with embezzling $33,678 in union funds.

    In Louisiana, David Mason, former President of United Steelworkers Local 253M (located in Simsboro, La.), was charged in a bill of information with embezzling $24,398 in union funds.

    In Louisiana, Daniel Hinton, former Vice President of United Steelworkers Local 253M (located in Simsboro, La.), was charged in a bill of information with embezzling $4,051 in union funds.

    In New York, Jay A. Garnsey, former Financial Secretary of United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Local 717 (located in Ilion, N.Y.), was charged in a one-count information with embezzlement from a labor organization for embezzling $38,173.

    Categories: Labor Racket Weekly
  7. DOL Proposed Rule Threatens Independent Contractors

    This week, the Department of Labor published a proposed rule for determining whether or not a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. Spoiler alert: it’s not looking good for hundreds of thousands of freelancers across the country who are hoping to maintain their independence.

    This new rule is a break from the Trump-era guidelines which prioritized how much control a worker had over their work and their “opportunity for profit or loss.” Instead, it lays out a list of highly subjective factors that only add confusion for workers and employers alike who will have to interpret this ruling.

    The new rule looks at “totality-of-the-circumstances” for an individual, meaning there’s a whole bunch of different – and potentially unclear – criteria that could qualify someone as an employee. The goal is clear: make it easier to reclassify countless independent contractors as employees.

    But a Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that nearly 80 percent of independent contractors prefer their independent work over traditional jobs. Less than 10 percent would switch to a traditional job if given the choice. Many of these contractors value the flexibility that comes with freelancing – especially those raising children or caring for a family member. But the federal government would rather apply a one size fits all model that would likely reclassify these contractors and upend their livelihood.

    To be clear, this is not to the benefit of actual workers. It’s all an effort to help labor unions increase their declining rank and file numbers. Unions have a far easier time organizing employees instead of freelancers.

    We already know reclassifying hundreds of thousands of freelancers against their will is a bad idea. California tried this policy out with its controversial AB 5 law. Thanks to the countless workers and industries that were outraged by the change, the law is now riddled with carve-outs.

    This is why we need ground-breaking legislation like the Employee Rights Act (ERA) which would codify the definition of employee and protect the independent contractor status for freelancers across the country. 

    Categories: Uncategorized
  8. AFT Prez Called Out for Tone-Deaf Trip to Ukraine

    Earlier this week, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten tweeted that she was heading to the Ukraine border to “assess the situation.” If you’re wondering what the president of an American teachers union was possibly doing almost a world away from the U.S….you’re not alone.

    People were quick to clap back at Weingarten for abandoning the American students who need her most — especially after her abysmal performance during the pandemic.

    Many criticized Weingarten for traveling to a war zone after claiming it was too unsafe for students and teachers to return to in-person learning during the pandemic. Others thought her antics exemplified how teachers unions have become all about politics, instead of what’s best for teachers and students. To make matters even worse, it appears the trip was funded by AFT members’ dues — even though it has little to do with representing the interests of the union’s members.

    The outrage reached far and wide, but knowing Weingarten, she may too tone-deaf to hear it.

    Categories: AFT