At least, that’s what a Detroit Free Press investigation into union embezzlement recently revealed. In the last two years alone, more than 300 union locations around the country have discovered theft. Two United Auto Workers (UAW) incidents uncovered in 2017—one in Michigan and another in New Jersey—exceed the $1 million mark, leaving them among the largest theft cases in a decade. Individual cases compiled by the Labor Department last year range from just over $1,000 to nearly $6.5 million in scale.
Free Press reporter Phoebe Howard explains: “Usually, the crimes are committed by the union local’s bookkeeper, president, or treasurer.” Where does the money go? “Gambling addiction is an issue at times.” And that’s not all: “Frequently, money goes to buy luxury items.”
She’s not wrong. For decades, union officials have claimed to represent dues-paying employees, only to betray their trust by misappropriating dues money and spending it on lavish expenses. As we’ve chronicled before, Philadelphia’s International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 spent more than $430,000 on sports tickets and other entertainment items in one recent year. Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, was exposed buying $245 wine bottles and $160 dinner entrees in a 2015 New York Times story.
Then there are the more sinister schemes. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is currently investigating a UAW corruption scandal, which includes purchases of a $350,000 Ferrari 458 Spider, one private jet, two limited edition Mont Blanc pens costing $75,000, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in improvements to private residences, among other expenses. UAW officials allegedly participated in a $4.5 million scheme that siphoned corporate training funds earmarked for blue-collar workers and spent the money on various luxuries.
But a union official’s luxury is a nightmare for union members, who contribute part of their paychecks to union treasuries expecting good-faith collective bargaining in return. Far too often, they receive anything but. In the last two years, a total of 143 union officials and staffers have pled guilty or been convicted of federal crimes.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review‘s editorial board put it best: Union embezzlement is “just the revolting tip of a decaying iceberg.”