Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

  1. Are the UAW’s Ethics Reforms a Bust?

    The United Auto Workers (UAW) claims it’s enacting “several reforms in an effort to prevent and root out corruption.” The union’s plan was announced by acting president Rory Gamble — who took over when former president Gary Jones stepped down after being accused of scheming to steal $700,000 in members’ dues.

    Since the union is still entrenched in a corruption investigation (which has resulted in thirteen federal charges to date), we have a few questions about its “reforms.”

    1)  The UAW will hire an “Ethics Ombudsman” to “receive, review, and respond to ethics complaints and allegations.” It will also hire an “Ethics Officer who will not be an employee of the International Union.”

    Sounds good so far. But, this “Ethics Officer” appears to have little independent enforcement power. Any complaints have to be referred to this independent officer by the “Ethics Ombudsman or the [International Executive Board].” Then, it’s the IEB that must enforce the independent officer’s decision. But wait, wasn’t it members of the IEB who were corrupt in the first place? It seems foolish for workers to trust the IEB to not only refer a complaint to the Ethics Officer, but to enforce the officer’s decision as well.

    If the UAW was serious about rooting out corruption, it would establish an independent officer who could investigate complaints directly from workers, with little-to-no involvement from the IEB.

    2) The union says it will set up an “Ethics Hotline” for those who want to report a concern.

    Nothing new here: The union provided a similar hotline for whistleblowers in the past. Women who tried to report pervasive sexual harassment at a Ford plant in Chicago said the hotline was essentially worthless. Why should workers believe this hotline will be any more effective?

    3) The union plans to sell former president Dennis Williams’ cabin at the UAW’s Black Lake resort.

    Selling the cabin seems to be the right thing to do, considering it was built for former president Dennis Williams — another official implicated in the corruption scandal. The money used to build the cabin was allegedly part of the millions of dollars funneled by union executives through the UAW’s training fund. That’s not to mention that at least part of the cabin was built using non-union labor. Given the cabin’s shady origin, does the union plan to put the profits from the cabin’s sale towards auto workers? UAW officials haven’t suggested that’s the plan.

    Until these questions are answered, it looks like the union’s latest “reforms” are nothing more than a publicity stunt to help rebuild its crumbling reputation.

    Categories: Crime & CorruptionUAW
  2. SEIU’s Fight for 15 Overlooks Its Own Scandals in Attack on McDonald’s

    Over the weekend, McDonald’s announced that its CEO Steve Easterbrook would be leaving the company, following a “consensual relationship with an employee that violated company policy.”

    If Easterbrook violated the rules, McDonald’s was right to ask him to leave. What’s not right is how the Fight for $15 movement — which is spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — has jumped on this opportunity to decry McDonald’s culture as “rotten from top to bottom.” Fight for 15 has no place slinging accusations against another organization, given the sordid behavior of its own staff.

    A recent investigation into workplace harassment at the Fight for 15 led to the resignation or firing of four officials, including SEIU Vice President Scott Courtney, Fight for 15 organizing director Kendall Fells, and the head of the campaign’s Detroit chapter Mark Raleigh. A union spokeperson said the high-level staff changes were the next step in the investigation, “which brought to light the serious problems related to abusive behavior towards staff, predominantly female staff.”

    Over a dozen staff members interviewed about the situation said “complaints about top-level staff on the Fight for 15 campaign, including Executive Vice President Scott Courtney, were an open secret.” Apparently, reports of “abusive and aggressive behavior…led to no action.”

    It doesn’t end there. In an ongoing lawsuit against the SEIU’s largest local, its vice president Dave Regan is accused of “sexual misconduct and assault” by a former union employee. Another employee has stepped forward to relay similar accusations. She was fired for speaking out.

    Regan has reportedly made it known that any potential whistleblowers should think twice before speaking out against him or the union.Unfortunately, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to accusations of sexual misconduct against the SEIU and its Fight for 15 movement. Perhaps the union should worry about the skeletons in its own closet before going after other organizations.

     

    Categories: SEIU
  3. Was the UAW Strike Worth It For Workers?

    Auto workers have been on strike for over a month. What do they have to show for it? A tentative deal between the United Auto Workers (UAW) and General Motors (GM) that’s been described as a “wash” for union members and almost “identical to GM’s initial proposal from September,” begging the question: Was the strike really worth it?

    The consensus from auto workers seems to be “no.”

    In fact, several workers took to Facebook to say they’d be voting no on this contract. The overwhelming feedback doesn’t bode well for the union:

    The bottom line is that three of four plants are closing, and the factory that GM will maintain (though it will be retooled for electric vehicle production) was already part of the company’s original offer — meaning the union’s month-long strike had little impact on the factory’s future.

    Even some of the contract highlights — a ratification bonus for employees of $11,000 — existed prior to the strike. GM offered $8,000 last month; is the extra $3,000 worth the loss of an estimated $6,000 in wages and profit share?

    UAW skeptics at the Autoworker Newsletter point out that the union’s “promise” to retain or hire 9,000 workers is not directly stated in the contract. Nor is the rumored $7.7 billion dollars in investments from GM. That’s a drastic departure from the union’s 2015 agreement, which listed concrete job numbers across 24 plants.

    When it comes to this latest deal, workers might be struggling to find the so-called “key gains” the UAW claims to have achieved.

     

    Categories: Uncategorized
  4. 60 Years of Union Transparency, Still Progress to be Made

    It’s been sixty years since Congress passed the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA) in an attempt to curb union corruption. Thanks to LMRDA, otherwise known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, private-sector unions are required to file annual financial reports. This means union members can see first-hand how much and where union officials spend workers’ dues.

    According to the latest union filings, we know that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ran up almost $30,000 in bills at Dick’s Last Resort, a chain restaurant known for its obnoxious staff and crude language. We also know that the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters spent over $150,000 sponsoring the Baltimore Orioles.

    Perhaps most notoriously, these filings have helped expose out-of-control spending at the United Auto Workers. In addition to being the subject of an ongoing federal corruption investigation, the UAW has reported some pretty questionable expenses over the years. In 2018 alone, the union’s spending included:

    • $11,540 at Infinity and Ovation Yacht Charters in Michigan for a Boat Charter for a UAW Executive Board Event;
    • $327,350 at the Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel, the resort site where previous spending has drawn federal investigators’ attention; 
    • $432,395 for “grand” lodging—including conferences and events at the Grand Hotel in Cape May, NJ, the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Traverse City, the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, and the Trade Winds Island Grand Resort in Florida.

    The rest of the union’s spending data can be accessed at UAWAccountability.com.

    Unfortunately, LMRDA does not extend to public-sector unions. That means public-sector union members have little-to-no transparency when it comes to how unions are spending members’ dues.

    The Department of Labor should extend reporting requirements to ensure accountability across the labor movement. But until then, public union members can at least access their union’s political spending through PublicUnionFacts.com. (Spoiler alert: the vast majority of political donations have gone to Democrats.)

    Categories: Crime & CorruptionDOLPolitical MoneyUAW
  5. Labor Racket Weekly: Best of September

    Below are some of the best labor rackets from September. If you look closely, you can catch the latest guilty plea to come out of the federal investigation into corruption at the United Auto Workers.

    In Iowa, Theodore E. Watson, former business manager for Insulators Local 74, was sentenced to 18 months in prison followed by three years of supervised probation.  Watson was also ordered to pay restitution of $125,443.  On April 15, 2019, Watson pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement and one count of mail fraud.

    In Pennsylvania, Tony J. Liesenfeld, former President and Secretary-Treasurer of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), was charged in a one-count information with wire fraud in the amount of at least $77,716.

    In the District of Columbia, Audonus Duplessis, former President of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 2463, pleaded guilty to one count of interstate transportation of stolen property for transporting $11,300 of stolen union funds from Washington, D.C. to Virginia to purchase a Dodge Charger for his personal use.  The total embezzlement by Duplessis was more than $80,000.

    In Maryland, Annette Jones, former President of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 331, was sentenced to two years in prison followed by three years of supervised probation.  Jones was also ordered to pay restitution of $82,180.  On May 7, 2019, Jones pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud.

    In New York, Frank Cognetta, former Secretary-Treasurer of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1-D, was sentenced to two years in prison followed by three years of supervised release. On March 11, 2019, Cognetta pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.

    In Michigan, Michael Grimes, former senior official in the General Motors Department of the United Auto Workers International Union (UAW), pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

    In Michigan, Stephen Perez, former Treasurer of Steelworkers Local 402, pleaded guilty to one count of embezzling approximately $14,408 in union funds.

    Categories: AFSCMECrime & CorruptionDOLLabor Racket Weekly
  6. SEIU Facing Backlash From Its Own Staff

    One of the nation’s largest labor unions is being accused of union-busting by its own employees. Staff employees of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have launched a campaign and walk out against the labor union, tweeting out that they “refuse to tolerate SEIU’s hypocritical #unionbusting behavior.” The staff are part of the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 2 (OPEIU Local 2).

    The walk out comes after a year of contract negotiations between OPEIU Local 2 and the SEIU. According to the union, during that time the SEIU has been outsourcing union jobs, eliminating work for staff members, and misclassifying employees.

    Perhaps the most egregious accusation has been the cuts made to the SEIU’s pension fund. In the past five years, OPEIU Local 2 reports that the SEIU’s pension fund has been cut in half. There’s also been a significant decline in OPEIU Local 2 workers since 2005, decreasing from 171 members to just 84. Maybe that’s partly to do with the claim that the “SEIU spent $21.6 million outsourcing work to non-union consultants in 2017.”

    That’s not to mention the accusations of “widespread bullying and sexual harassment” by SEIU officials that have surrounded the union’s leadership in recent years.

    OPEIU Local 2 members and their supporters are calling on the SEIU to “practice what they preach.” Only time will tell if the union is willing to listen.

    Categories: SEIU
  7. UAW Launches Strike Following President’s Implication in Corruption Scandal

    Nearly 50,000 members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) traded in their work uniforms for picket signs on Monday morning as part of the union’s strike against General Motors.

    UAW Vice President Terry Dittes said the strike “is the union’s last resort but is needed because the sides are far apart in negotiating a new four-year contract.” But the strike’s convenient timing suggests the decision had less to do with the union’s dissatisfaction over contract negotiations, and more to do with the growing corruption scandal surrounding the UAW.

    Until now, current union President Gary Jones had escaped any formal scrutiny in the ongoing federal investigation at the union. But just last week, the US District Court of Eastern Michigan unsealed a criminal complaint which indicted UAW Region 5 Director Vance Pearson and implicated UAW President Gary Jones as a co-conspirator.

    Pearson and other officials, including Jones, are charged with embezzling over one million dollars in members’ dues. To mask their crimes, Jones apparently directed UAW Region 5 officials to set up a “Master Account” with the hotel where their annual conference was held.

    In one particularly damning example, former Vice President Norwood Jewell hosted two parties totaling over $50,000. Included at these parties were thousands of dollars of ultra-premium liquor, cigars, and provocatively dressed “kandy girls” to light the cigars of the unions officials.

    Given the new information about Jones’ involvement, it’s a wonder he survived the recent attempt to remove him from office. But it makes the call to strike that followed almost immediately after — shutting down 33 manufacturing plants in nine states — even more suspicious.

    It seems the UAW will stop at nothing to distract the public from the union’s “culture of corruption” — even if it means jeopardizing the livelihoods of thousands of auto workers.

    Categories: UAWUncategorized
  8. Big Labor Sent Over $1.6 Billion To Left-Wing Special Interests

    In continuation of its campaign to educate the public on the benefits of the Employee Rights Act, the Center for Union Facts has released updated data that tracks how much money labor unions have sent to the Left since 2010. This new spending information includes the latest union financial records from 2018.

    Details regarding the over $1.6 billion unions sent to left-leaning causes, including which groups received the most money and how much was spent on certain categories, can be seen at this chart. Major recipients included the Democratic Governors Association, the Center for America Progress, and Planned Parenthood.

    Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, public-sector union members are no longer obligated to contribute to their union’s political activity as a condition of employment. But for private-sector employees in unionized workplaces, their dues are still being sent to primarily left-leaning causes without their consent. In fact, 99 percent of political contributions from labor unions since 2010 have gone to Democratic causes, even though almost half of union households voted Republican in 2016.

    Unfortunately, most union members have no idea that part of their dues go to fund left-leaning advocacy. That’s why Congress needs to get serious about legislation like the Employees Right Act, which would require unions to receive permission from members to use their dues for anything other than collective bargaining.

    Categories: Employee Rights Act