Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

  1. The Gig Worker “Strike” That Wasn’t

    To listen to Vice tell it, Monday’s planned “strike” by Instacart shoppers was the country’s biggest labor action since the 1936 General Motors workers sit-down in Flint, Michigan:

    Instacart shoppers are planning a nationwide mass revolt over the grocery delivery app’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. … The March 30 walkout will build on a wave of wildcat strikes sweeping across the country …  leading to calls for a “general strike,” or mass strike action across the country.

    USA Today reported that more than 150,000 Instacart shoppers and customers would “walk off the job” today. (It’s unclear how a gig worker who doesn’t gig, or customer who decides not to use the app, can “walk off” a job–but set that aside.) Meanwhile, TechCrunch said that online retail giant Amazon would face a “bevy” of strike activity today. 

    The strikes are part of a larger labor union campaign to organize these workers and turn them into dues-paying members. But if you strained to see the impact of the so-called strike on Monday, you’re not alone.

    Axios reported that the strike had “absolutely no impact” on Instacart’s operations, citing a statement from the company. Relative to this time last week, the “platform had 40% more workers on it…” That’s basically the exact opposite of what a successful strike should accomplish.

    Independent verification of this was visible around the country. In Lancaster County, PA, for instance, one local reporter found that the service was “operating normally.”  In central Oregon, a group of Instacart shoppers took to local media to confirm that they would not be participating in the strike, and viewed being an independent contractor as a perk of the job rather than a drawback.

    Amazon’s antagonists didn’t fare much better: The company confirmed that just 15 people out of a workforce of 5,000 participated in the Staten Island demonstration”–a participation rate of less than one percent. 

    Unions have struggled in recent years to reverse membership declines in the private-sector, and view the tech industry as fertile ground. But if today’s poor showing is any indication, the workers don’t want what the union is selling.
    Categories: Gig Workers
  2. SEIU’s Hypocrisy in the Face of Corona Crisis

    Last week, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) ran a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal highlighting its latest campaign to  “Protect All Workers.” The ad was an open letter to America’s CEOs from SEIU President Mary Kay Henry. In the ad, Henry asks these business leaders to implement a list of union demands in response to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

    Of course, the union expects “immediate action by major industries and corporations.” If only the union had lived up to its own expedient expectations when it came to addressing sexual harassment allegations in its ranks.

    Earlier this year, one of the SEIU’s largest locals SEIU United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) settled a “contentious” sexual-harassment lawsuit filed against the union by former union employee Mindy Sturge. The lawsuit and subsequent testimony from union employees depict a union “plagued by sexual misconduct scandals.”

    Sturge said she believed former union leader Marcus Hatcher put something in her drink in an attempt to take advantage of her, saying she felt “violently sick shortly after drinking it.” Another employee claimed UHW Vice President Stan Lyles assaulted her in an elevator. Yet another claimed SEIU Vice President Dave Regan was seen “drunk in meetings,” and had a habit of making lewd comments about female employees.

    Many more accusations are detailed at www.MeTooSEIU.com.

    Some of the top union officials mentioned in the lawsuit continue to hold high-ranking positions at the union. As for President Henry, it appears she knew of the accusations and failed to take action against potential sexual predators. Staffers claimed their attempts to report misconduct were ignored.

    One former employee Daria Alladio claimed she reached out to the International union to find out why her assaulter Pedro Malave was being hired by union affiliates. She received no response. Mindy Sturge said she reached out to the International with concerns about sexual harassment twice to no avail.

    So much for “protecting all workers” being the “moral requirement of this moment, and always,” like the union’s ad proclaims. If the SEIU truly wants to “Protect All Workers,” maybe it should start with its own. For that matter, workers counting on the SEIU to look out for their best interests should consider how the union treats its own employees. 

    Categories: SEIU
  3. NLRB Asked to Take Action Against UFCW Scheme Forcing Union Membership

    National labor unions are profiting off of the expanding recreational and medicinal cannabis industry, and the most egregious offender is the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). This week, the National Right to Work Foundation (NRTWF) asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to put a stop to this scheme. 

    According to the NRTWF, the UFCW is manipulating state licensing laws to force employees into union ranks. A letter from the foundation to the General Counsel of the NLRB describes this “disturbing trend” that violates “employees’ Section 7 rights to choose or refrain from union representation.”

    Here’s how the scheme works: Several states have industry-specific licensing laws on the books that are aimed at empowering unions by forcing membership dues on employees. In New York and California, for instance, employers are required by law to enter into “Labor Peace Agreements” in order to maintain their license. In Pennsylvania and Illinois, cannabis license applicants who have LPAs essentially get preferential treatment by state officials.

    Instead of allowing employees to pick their representation, an employer could already have an agreement with a labor union before the business is up and running. As the Foundation points out, these LPAs “violate workers’ privacy” and threaten their right to choose whether or not to join a union.

    The NRTWF cites New Jersey as the most “egregious” violator of workers’ rights, as its law “brazenly requires employers to enter into collective bargaining agreements that will almost certainly contain forced dues clauses.” Additionally, license applicants must comply with LPAs as a condition of keeping their license. In practice, this means the state “pressures employees to sign up for unionization solely to keep their employers afloat.”

    Unfortunately, it’s not “uncommon for labor to use its political muscle to force businesses to bend to its will.” California’s cannabis industry recently got a wake up call on how unions expect business to be done in the Golden State: “You have to play by union rules, or you don’t exist.” 

    It’s not just licensing laws that are susceptible to undue union influence. Hospitality worker union Unite Here Local 11 uses similar schemes to expand its reach in Southern California. The union fought for a proposal to mandate LPAs for city-owned property in downtown Santa Monica. Local 11 also frequently backs development projects that are otherwise opposed by community members, so long as the proposed hotel developer signs an LPA with the union.

    As the NRTWF has warned, “Once this practice of dragooning workers into forced union representation and forced dues becomes established, it will be that much more difficult to overturn.” To protect workers’ rights, especially in the continually growing cannabis industry, the NLRB should take seriously these state schemes to push workers into union ranks, and work to preempt future laws that may compromise employees’ free choice.

    Categories: NLRBUFCW
  4. Labor Racket Weekly: February and March

    For reasons unrelated to the coronavirus, some union bosses might find themselves quarantined for some time — behind bars, that is. Check out the latest labor rackets from the past few months.

    In Arkansas, Michael Johnson, former President and Business Manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1658, was charged in a criminal information with one count of embezzlement of union funds in the amount of $9,317.

    In Michigan, Edward “Nick” Robinson, former President of United Auto Workers (UAW) Midwest CAP Council, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to embezzle union funds in excess of $1.5 million, and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States.

    In Georgia, Janet Pilcher, former Secretary-Treasurer of National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Branch 536, was indicted for embezzlement of union funds in the amount of $65,033.

    In Maine, Jeffrey Phillips, former Financial Secretary-Treasurer of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) Local Lodge 836, pleaded guilty to one count of stealing from within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, in the amount of $57,610.

    In North Carolina, Terry Slaughter, former Secretary Treasurer of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1208, was sentenced to six months of imprisonment and three years of supervised release, and was ordered to pay $62,315 in restitution and a $100 fine.

    In Michigan, Michael Grimes, a former senior official in the General Motors Department of the United Auto Workers (UAW), was sentenced to 28 months in prison and 12 months of supervised release. Grimes was also ordered to forfeit $1,509,500 in proceeds from his crimes and pay a $200 special assessment. On September 4, 2019, Grimes pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

    In California, after a six-day trial, a jury found John S. Romero, former President of United Industrial Services Worker of America (UISWA), guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit theft or embezzlement in connection with health care (18 U.S.C. 371), 12 counts of theft or embezzlement of approximately $800,000 in connection with health care (18 U.S.C. 669), and one count of filing a false financial report with the Department of Labor, in which he failed to properly report the existence of more than $100,000 in receipts and disbursements (18 U.S.C. 1001). Romero’s family members, who were co-defendants (son John J. Romero, former UISWA Secretary-Treasurer; daughter Danae Romero, former UISWA Trustee; and ex-wife Evelyn Romero, former UISWA President), each previously pleaded guilty to counts under the indictment and testified at trial on behalf of the government.

    In Pennsylvania, James Young, former President of American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 4973, was sentenced to two years of probation and was ordered to pay $5,450 in restitution and a $100 special assessment. As a condition of his probation, Young cannot visit a casino establishment during his two year probationary period. On October 23, 2019, Young pleaded guilty to one count of embezzling union funds totaling $7,050.

    Categories: Building and Construction Trades CouncilLabor Racket Weekly
  5. Top UAW Official Accused of Sexual Harassment

    As if a corruption scandal wasn’t bad enough, the United Auto Workers (UAW) is now facing allegations of sexual harassment against UAW executive board member and regional director Richard Rankin.

    Two female staff members claim Rankin “repeatedly made sexually charged remarks that in one instance escalated to a physical threat.” The women claim the harassment began in 2015, and that their attempts to report it resulted in retaliation against them by Rankin.

    Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time an employee has accused a UAW official of sexual harassment. In a Chicago Tribune op-ed from 2018, a female worker detailed a history of abuse and sexual harassment at Ford’s Chicago plant. When she attempted to report the harassment, she said she faced retaliation from the UAW. She claimed her union representative tried to run her off the road, slashed her car tires, and came to her house to harass her.

    In response to the current accusations against Rankin, the UAW has launched an “independent” investigation. The union hired Washington, DC-based law firm Bredhoff & Kaiser, PLLC to look into the allegations. But how “independent” can the law firm running the investigation be? In 2018, the union paid the firm over $1 million. And that was just over the course of one year.


    According to LM-2 data from the Department of Labor, the law firm has received almost $2 million from the UAW since 2015. Far from being independent, it seems the firm and the union have been in business together for quite some time. The firm itself seems to be the go-to choice for major unions looking for legal help — it’s currently litigating on behalf of the AFL-CIO on a separate issue.

    With former union president Gary Jones set to be the 14th official convicted in the corruption scandal at the union, and now a high level sexual harassment investigation under way, it doesn’t seem like things are turning around at the UAW any time soon.

    Categories: UAW
  6. Ex-UAW Prez Charged in Federal Corruption Probe

    Former UAW President Gary Jones has officially been charged by the federal government for embezzling over $1 million in union funds. He is expected to plead guilty.

    While we can’t say we’re surprised (see our “WANTED” ad for Jones that ran last November), the charges against Jones certainly don’t inspire faith in the UAW among its rank and file.

    Court documents describe a years-long scheme to divert money from the UAW for Jones’ personal use and the use of other UAW officials. Jones reportedly used the money to “splurge on private villas, golf outings, boozy meals and horseback rides on the beach.”

    In its official response to the charges against Jones, the UAW quickly pivoted from reprimanding Jones’ behavior to attacking the Detroit News, an outlet that has provided essential coverage of the union’s wrongdoing. The UAW claimed that by reporting on the corruption scandal, the News was “intentionally trying to harm the UAW and its members.” From our perspective, it seems like the union has done enough “harm” on its own.

    (Also, here’s a pro tip for the UAW: Maybe try working an apology to union members into the next official statement.)

    With overall union membership on the decline — including a recent drop in the UAW’s own membership numbers — the scandal certainly isn’t helping things. As longtime New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse recently noted, the UAW’s shenanigans are “a terrible betrayal of the labor movement when many unions are seeking to rebound.”

    However, as the Wall Street Journal editorial board recently pointed out, the UAW may be leading the pack, but it’s not the only union that’s been marked by scandal: “Such corrupt labor practices are widespread. The Labor Department audits unions, and in 2016 nearly one in five such inspections led to a criminal case.”

    But with the possibility of a government takeover of the union still looming, the UAW might just win the award for most corrupt labor union of the modern era. 

    Categories: UAW
  7. How Would the PRO Act Hurt Workers? Let Us Count the Ways…

    The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives recently passed H.R 2474, or the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act). While the bill contains a laundry list of anti-worker policies, a few stand out as particularly harmful.

    For starters, the bill would override right-to-work laws in 27 states across the country. Without these laws in place, workers would be forced to contribute financially to a union, even one they might disagree with, as a condition of employment.

    The PRO Act would also legislate away workers’ right to vote for their representation by secret ballot. Instead, the bill allows unions to bypass this basic tenet of democracy by using “card checks.” With card checks, workers are persuaded to sign a card that authorizes union representation. The system is largely unregulated and opens workers up to peer pressure, intimidation, and coercion.

    What’s more, the PRO Act copies language from a recent law in California that launched “debilitating new regulations on the gig economy.” The CA law known as AB 5 has threatened the livelihood of countless freelancers in the state by reclassifying them as “employees” instead of as “independent contractors.” Now, some legislators hope to do the same to workers across the country.

    But why support a bill that’s nothing more than a union wish list? Simple: Democrats rely heavily on union support. Consider that unions have sent more than $1.6 billion to left-leaning causes over the last ten years. Politicians on the Left are likely eager to push for union-backed policies if it means maintaining that level of financial support, despite the potential impact on workers.

    While the PRO Act is probably a non-starter in the Senate, the bill’s progress should be cause for concern. As one Congressman put it, the PRO Act would only succeed in providing workers with “fewer choices, fewer rights, and an inability to speak for themselves.”

    A better alternative for American workers would be legislation like the Employee Rights Act, which would free workers across the country from paying mandatory union dues as a condition of employment, and give employees more power to keep or reject their union.

    Categories: Employee Rights ActPRO ActRight-to-Work
  8. New Year, Same Old Union Corruption

    It’s been a rocky start to the New Year for some union officials. Check out the latest labor rackets from 2020:

    In California, after a six-day trial, a jury found John S. Romero, former President of United Industrial Services Worker of America (UISWA), located in Colton, Calif., guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit theft or embezzlement in connection with health care (18 U.S.C. 371), 12 counts of theft or embezzlement of approximately $800,000 in connection with health care (18 U.S.C. 669), and one count of filing a false financial report with the Department of Labor, in which he failed to properly report the existence of more than $100,000 in receipts and disbursements (18 U.S.C. 1001). Romero’s family members, who were co-defendants (son John J. Romero, former UISWA Secretary-Treasurer; daughter Danae Romero, former UISWA Trustee; and ex-wife Evelyn Romero, former UISWA President), each previously pleaded guilty to counts under the indictment and testified at trial on behalf of the government.

    In Iowa, Gregg Pedersen, former President of Association of Civilian Technicians (ACT) Local 75 (located in Sioux City, Iowa), was sentenced to probation for two years and was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $11,638 and a $100 fine. On September 27, 2019, Pedersen pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in the amount of $6,320, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1343.

    In Michigan, Vance Pearson, former Regional Director of United Auto Workers (UAW) Region 5 (located in St. Louis, Mo.), pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to embezzle union funds and to use a facility of interstate commerce to aid a racketeering enterprise, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 371, 1952(a)(3), and 29 U.S.C. 501(c).

    In Hawaii, Nathan Lum, former Longshore Division Director of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 142 (located in Honolulu, Hawaii), was sentenced to 30 months of imprisonment and was ordered to pay $314,178 in restitution and a $125 special assessment.  On March 28, 2019, Lum pleaded guilty to one count each of aggravated identity theft and failure to file income tax returns, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1028A(a)(1) and 26 U.S.C. 7203, respectively.

    In North Carolina, Keith Ludlum, former President of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1208 (located in Tar Heel, N.C.), pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $250,000 in union funds, in violation of 29 U.S.C 501(c), and conspiracy to defraud UFCW Local 1208 by unauthorized payments to friends and families, in violation of 29 U.S.C. 501(c) and 18 U.S.C. 371.

    In Pennsylvania, James Moylan, Executive Director of Neighborhoods for Fair Taxes, a non-profit that received donations from International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 98 (located in Philadelphia, Pa.), was sentenced to 18 months of incarceration and ordered to serve two years of probation upon his release.  Moylan was also ordered to pay $130,783 in restitution, a $10,000 fine, and a $400 special assessment fee.  On October 16, 2019, Moylan pleaded guilty to an indictment charging him with 17 counts of wire fraud (18 U.S.C. 1343) and four counts of filing false federal income tax returns (26 U.S.C. 7206(01))

    In North Dakota, Chad Michael Waldoch, former Secretary-Treasurer of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (SMART) Local 980 (located in Fargo, N.D.), was indicted for embezzlement of union funds in the amount of $107,706, in violation of 29 U.S.C. 501(c).

     

    Categories: Crime & CorruptionLabor Racket Weekly