Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

  1. UAW Accused of “Threatening and Intimidating” Members at Constitutional Convention

    Members of the United Auto Workers hoping to have their voices heard at the union’s constitutional convention last week were reportedly greeted with hostility from UAW leadership.

    The convention was supposed to be a democratic gathering, emphasizing the union’s recent switch to a “one member, one vote system,” instead of the delegate system that was previously in place. Union members voted to make this switch after a years-long federal investigation unearthed deep-rooted corruption at the union.

    But reports show that attendees who questioned the union’s status quo were heckled, intimidated or drowned out.

    The main issue that arose between leadership and attendees was that the UAW did not want to increase pay for striking workers. The vote to raise strike pay passed initially, but UAW leaders then put it up for a reversal vote after many members had already left the convention, allowing the policy to be reversed before it ever took effect. Union leaders also pulled the same trick to give themselves raises after the vote was first denied.

    “Our leaders … do not represent the rank-and-file members of our union. They represent the interests of staff and leadership. They represent the interests of their friends,” said Daniel Vicente of Local 644. “They absolutely robbed us again. We’ve been robbed by the people in prison; we’re getting robbed by these leaders here.”

    Scott Houldieson, a leader of the pro-reform group Unite All Workers for Democracy, told the Detroit News that the convention started out cordially only to devolve into anti-democratic chaos as leaders aimed to silence dissenting voices.

    “Democracy was breaking out all over the place — until (Thursday) morning. What you saw (Thursday) is what we’re trying to get away from, what our caucus is interested in reforming. We want to bring democracy to the UAW so that the members have a real voice, rather than this convention system where the administration lays down the law and tells the delegates what they’re going to do and how they’re going to vote,” Houldieson said. 

    Here’s what others had to say:

    For the UAW, these tactics are nothing new. But it looks like workers’ voices won’t be so easy to drown out this time around.

     

    Categories: UAW
  2. Mobile Billboard Alerts Workers to UAW Corruption at Union Convention

    Today, the Center for Union Facts placed a mobile billboard in Detroit, Michigan. The billboard — which takes up three sides of a moving truck — will run just outside of the United Auto Workers’ constitutional convention taking place at Huntington Place in Detroit Monday-Wednesday of this week.

    The billboard features both video and sound. It warns: “Worker alert! UAW leaders were concealing evidence from Federal Monitor.” The warning for union convention attendees comes after the UAW’s court-appointed monitor filed an update on the union’s progress last week. The report details how union leaders obstructed his investigation into wrongdoing at the union and even concealed crucial evidence.

    The UAW was placed under this six-year federal monitorship as part of its settlement deal with the Department of Justice. The deal came after a years-long investigation found several high-ranking union leaders, including two former presidents, guilty of corruption.

    You can see the billboard image here (featured on the back of the truck) and watch the video here (featured on either side of the truck).

    As we penned in the Wall Street Journal last week, it appears old habits die hard for UAW leaders. It’s no wonder several union members have launched campaigns to challenge the union’s current leadership at this week’s convention. Members may decide such a change is what’s needed to truly weed out corruption at the UAW.

    Categories: UAW
  3. Unions Help Drive Amazon out of New York City Area…Again

    In 2019, New York City’s labor unions played a key role in tanking the development of an Amazon location in Queens – and the thousands of jobs that went with it. Now, it looks like unions are once again behind a failed deal for a new Amazon cargo hub in Newark, New Jersey.

    Labor unions said they couldn’t support the lease for the hub “unless Amazon made a set of concessions that included labor agreements.” This is despite the fact that the project would have created an estimated 1,000 jobs and included “$125 million in renovating two buildings at the airport, and paying the Port Authority more than $300 million over 20 years — including $150 million up front.”

    It’s also worth noting that the average starting pay for Amazon’s hourly workers is more than $18 nationally. The median hourly wage in New Jersey was about $23 last year. But the possibility of bringing in hundreds of well-paying jobs didn’t matter if unions like the Teamsters and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) couldn’t benefit from organizing these workers.

    This isn’t the first time labor unions have let their drive to gain members lose the area jobs. When negotiations were still ongoing for Amazon’s Queens location, Stuart Applebaum, President of RWDSU, along with the AFL-CIO and Teamsters, called on Amazon to agree to a neutrality pledge, which would allow 2,500 workers to organize at the retail giant’s new location. Even an SEIU local worried that the unions’ continued demand for neutrality “could fan the anti-Amazon flames” and encourage the company to pull out of the deal. And that’s basically what happened.

    But killing job-creating deals is kind of the RWDSU’s thing. A little over a decade ago, the union put the kibosh on yet another development – the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx– that cost the city thousands of jobs. Since developers wouldn’t sign a living wage/union neutrality agreement, the union fought the development. The armory, which would have created 1,000 construction jobs and hundreds of permanent positions, was subsequently terminated.

    With another failed Amazon deal on the books, New Yorkers and New Jerseyans alike can once again thank union leaders for stripping the area of more job opportunities. 

    Categories: AFL-CIOSEIU
  4. Ford/UAW Deal Prioritizes Union Interests Over Workers

    Terry Bowman, a 26-year Ford/UAW auto worker recently published an op-ed in the Center Square calling out Ford Motors for being “in bed” with the United Auto Workers at a forthcoming plant in Tennessee. His main concern, and certainly a concern for any future auto workers in the state, is Ford’s neutrality agreement with the union.

    When Ford announced it was opening a new manufacturing plant in Tennessee, the state welcomed the thousands of new jobs. But by signing a neutrality agreement with the union, Ford has all but assured this new plant will be organized by the UAW – even if it’s not what a majority of workers want.

    The phrase “neutrality agreement” may sound benign, but it’s actually a way for the union to make sure it has full access to the plant and its workers to make organizing as easy as possible. This includes giving the union access to workers’ personal information, including home addresses. Essentially, the organizing campaign won’t just stop outside Ford property.

    Even worse, Ford has agreed to allow the union to organize via card check — denying its own employees the right to a secret ballot vote. Instead of holding a fair election where each employee’s vote is private, the union can organize merely by collecting employee signatures on union cards.

    It’s not hard to see why this method is preferred by the union. Organizers can coerce, intimidate, and otherwise pressure workers to sign these cards. In fact, UAW organizers aren’t even required to explain to workers what exactly they’re signing. Workers might be tempted to sign just to get the union off their backs without truly knowing the consequences.

    With the UAW’s track record of entrenched corruption, we can bet the union is glad to have dodged a secret ballot election. But workers deserve better. Recent polling even shows Tennesseans prefer having a secret ballot in union elections by a six-to-one margin.

    But all hope is not lost. State lawmakers can and should step in to preserve worker choice in Tennessee.

    Categories: Ending Secret BallotsUAWWorkplace Election Integrity
  5. Labor Racket Weekly: Starting Summer on the Wrong Foot

    Check out the labor rackets from the past few months to see which union bosses are off to a rough start this Summer.

    In Georgia, Savannah Division, Connie Deal, former bookkeeper for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 508 (located in Savannah, Ga.), pleaded guilty to one count of making a false entry in a union record.

    In Virginia, Anthony Jordan, former Secretary-Treasurer of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) Division 26 (located in Chester, Va.), pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement from a labor organization totaling $30,519.

    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., pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement and one count of conspiracy to embezzle union funds.

    In New York, Donald Snyder, former President of International Association of EMTs and Paramedics (IAEP), affiliated with National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) Local R2-394 (located in Amherst, N.Y.), was sentenced to three years of probation with the first 12 months as home confinement. He was ordered to pay $94,649 in restitution and a $100 special assessment. On July 20, 2021, Snyder pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement of union funds.

    In Michigan, Peggy Garrow, former President of American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3496 (located in Marquette, Mich.), pleaded guilty to one count of willfully falsifying a labor organization annual report.

    In Michigan, Kenneth Baumgarner, former President of National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Branch 1147 (located in Grand Haven, Mich.), was sentenced to one year of probation. He was also ordered to pay a $2,000 fine and a $100 special assessment. Baumgarner previously made restitution totaling $6,600. On January 5, 2022, Baumgarner pleaded guilty to one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $6,600.

    In Ohio, Eastern Division, Phelton Woods, former Treasurer of the Columbus School Employee Association (CSEA), located in Columbus, Ohio, was indicted on 12 counts of bank fraud for approximately $60,685.

    In Virginia, Richmond Division, Anthony Jordan, former Secretary-Treasurer of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) Division 26 (located in Chester, Va.), was charged in a criminal information with one count of embezzlement from a labor organization for embezzling $30,519 from the union.

    In Massachusetts, Marie LeClair, former President of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 2617 (located in Boston, Mass.), was charged in a criminal information with one count of wire fraud in the amount of $3,000 for a scheme to defraud the union and one count of aiding and abetting.

    In Pennsylvania, Joseph Whitbeck, former Vice President of National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Branch 274 (located in Allentown, Pa.), was sentenced to 24 months of imprisonment followed by three years of supervision. Whitbeck was also ordered to pay a $50,000 fine, $32,600 in forfeiture, and a $2,000 special assessment. On November 3, 2021, Whitbeck pleaded guilty to 10 counts of honest services wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud.

    In the District of Columbia, Melba Norris, an associate of a former employee of the Service Employees International Union (located in Washington, D.C.), was charged in a criminal information with one count of embezzlement and one count of one count of conspiracy to embezzle union funds, in violation of 29 U.S.C. 501(c) and 18 U.S.C. 371. The criminal information states that Norris was part of a conspiracy to embezzle $503,600 from the union by using the union credit card to pay $60,000 in fraudulent invoices to fraudulent companies and purchasing $204,000 in gift cards for personal use, among other things.

    In  Massachusetts, Michael Oldham, former President of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 1900 (located in Taunton, Mass.), pleaded guilty to 26 counts of wire fraud totaling $35,900 for checks written from the union’s bank account, one count of false statements for filing a false LM-3 report, and three counts of filing false tax returns in the amount of $233,970, which resulted in fraudulent refunds totaling $18,237.

    Categories: Labor Racket Weekly
  6. Do New UAW Election Rules Do Enough to Enact Meaningful Reform At the Union?

    Last week, the court-appointed independent monitor for the United Auto Workers union released the rules for the union’s first ever mail-in direct election of the International Executive Board. The rules were published in a six-month update filed by the monitor.

    Back in December, auto workers voted to adopt direct elections following a years-long corruption scandal at the union. As several high-ranking union officials – including two former union presidents – were found guilty of contributing to the union’s culture of corruption, members began calling for a move to a “one member, one vote” system. The vote itself was a result of the union’s settlement with the federal government.

    The rules for the new election include some safeguards against future corruption. However, the monitor writes in his report that he wanted the rules to disrupt “as little of the UAW’s historical culture and practices as possible.” But many members pushed for direct elections as a way to shake up the union’s entrenched status quo – not tiptoe around it.

    There are some positives. The new rules allow the UAW and the independent monitor to vet candidates. Any that are found guilty of fraudulent or corrupt activity in court or in a UAW disciplinary proceeding will be prohibited from running.

    The rules also detail campaign finance rules and disclosures, specifically meant to address the use of “flower funds.” These flower funds were intended to collect money to provide flowers at the funerals of automakers. But investigators found that senior UAW officials who controlled the funds—including presidents, vice presidents, and regional directors—were threatening high level staff into contributing to the funds. If these staff members refused to donate, they could fear being demoted back to the assembly lines. And what was the UAW really doing with the money? Funneling it into their own bank accounts.

    According to the independent monitor, the new rules “may impact the ability of Candidates, Slates, or Covered Parties from utilizing multi-purpose funds, like some of the Union’s Officers’ so-called ‘flower funds.’” However, the funds are not “categorically prohibited,” but anyone trying to use them for the election must “demonstrate complete adherence to the True Source and True Purpose Rules, or the funds in question will not be usable.”

    The first ballots will be sent by mail to members on Oct. 17 and must be received by November 28. Only time will tell if the new election system will truly help weed out corruption at the UAW. But if the goal is to truly reform the union, we’re not sure creating a system “that would require as few changes as necessary to the Union’s existing structures” is the best way to go.

    Categories: Crime & CorruptionUAW
  7. Who’s the Real Author Behind Seattle’s “PayUp” Legislation?

    Working Washington got its start advocating for the Service Employees International Union and its Fight for $15 campaign. (In fact, the group is so entrenched in union interests that we filed a complaint against it, arguing it should be considered a “labor organization.”) Most recently, Working Washington pushed for a government takeover of Seattle’s gig economy through its “PayUp” policy. On April 5, Councilmember Lisa Herbold introduced a bill under that name.

    The PayUp package sets compensation minimums for gig workers and limits how apps can deactivate workers and remove them from the service. It could have big implications for every Seattle resident who uses a gig service. Prices could increase, apps could have a harder time removing poorly rated drivers, and new delivery services could be less likely to come to Seattle.

    Internal documents obtained by the Center for Union Facts from the City of Seattle shed new insights on the origins on this legislation. Working Washington’s main lobbyist, Sage Wilson, has been able to provide key input on the legislation to several members of Seattle City Council, their staff, and the Office of Labor Standard (OLS). Wilson not only advised these people, but set the timeline of the legislation and was allowed to edit the bill.

    Seattle’s City Council first debated draft PayUp legislation on July 13, culminating Working Washington’s multi-year advocacy and lobbying campaign on the issue. Unsurprisingly, the original draft legislation incorporated key Working Washington policy demands, including on “minimum compensation,” “transparency,” and “deactivation.” Once introduced, Working Washington lobbyist Sage Wilson truly became an integral part of the city’s policy process.

    On September 10, 2021, Wilson emailed a city council member’s office, proclaiming “[I] really want to underscore the importance to us of the draft legislation being discussed in committee on Tuesday.”


    Three days later, the office responded to Wilson, not only promising that he would get his way, but also asking if he was available for a “check-in” “to discuss the timeline further.”