Congress launches SEIU probe

More Andy Stern stories: hereTyrone Freeman stories: hereRickman Jackson stories: here

Will union-friendly Dems go easy on Andy Stern?

A congressional committee has opened an inquiry into a financial scandal enveloping the Service Employees International Union's biggest California local because of six-figure payments made to firms owned by relatives of its president.

Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, announced Thursday that the panel would examine the union's spending practices, which were reported this month by The Times.

"Our committee takes these reported allegations seriously, and we plan to thoroughly review this matter," Miller said in a statement. A spokesman said Miller had no further comment.

The congressman, a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is known as a friend of organized labor, although he has clashed with unions on occasion. His 49-member committee has jurisdiction to investigate and hold hearings on a broad range of workplace matters, including the rights of union members.

Federal authorities had already launched a criminal investigation of the expenditures, according to people familiar with that probe. Among the agencies involved are two enforcement arms of the U.S. Labor Department as well as the U.S. attorney's office, the sources said.

The Times has reported that small companies run by the wife and mother-in-law of the Los Angeles-based United Long-Term Care Workers president, Tyrone Freeman, received about $405,000 in 2006 and 2007 from the union and a charity that Freeman founded.

According to records and interviews, the local has paid $219,000 to a firm operated by a former union employee who is a close friend of Freeman and his wife, and $16,000 for "public relations" to a now-defunct minor league basketball team coached by Freeman's brother-in-law.

The local also spent at least $300,000 last year on a Four Seasons Resorts golf tournament, a Beverly Hills cigar club, restaurants such as Morton's steakhouse and a consulting contract with the William Morris Agency, the Hollywood talent shop, The Times has reported.

Freeman, who was paid $213,000 in salary and other compensation last year, stepped aside last week. He has denied any wrongdoing. Most of his local's 160,000 members earn about $9 an hour caring for the elderly and infirm. Their dues finance the union's operations.

The leader of SEIU's largest Michigan chapter, Rickman Jackson, also has taken a leave of absence because of an internal union investigation into the Los Angeles local, where he has served as chief of staff.

The Times has reported that a housing corporation Freeman helped found used the address of a Bell Gardens home that property records show is owned by Jackson. Union and housing corporation officials have declined to say whether Jackson was paid for any use of his residence.

Jackson has said in e-mails that he would have no comment on the matter.

A spokeswoman for SEIU President Andy Stern said Thursday that the union would "fully cooperate" with the congressional inquiry.

"I can tell you that SEIU is deeply troubled by the allegations," said spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette.

The SEIU has placed Freeman's local in a trusteeship and has enlisted former California Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp to conduct an internal review.

Freeman is a longtime Stern protégé, and the spending disclosures have been a stinging embarrassment for the SEIU leader, who is preparing to mobilize the union in support of Barack Obama's presidential drive, labor experts say.

Peter Dreier, an Occidental College politics professor who studies unions, said the Miller inquiry could help head off any efforts by Republican presidential candidate John McCain's campaign to tie the SEIU's troubles to his Democratic rival.

"The Democrats would have a good response in saying, 'We're cleaning house,' " Dreier said. "Miller wants to see a labor movement that can rebuild itself, and he won't tolerate interference in getting to the bottom of this. . . . Corruption is an obstacle tohaving a strong labor movement."

The SEIU contributed about $10,000 to Miller's election campaign during the last annual reporting cycle, according to the Open Secrets website on political contributions.

It was not clear when the House committee might begin holding hearings, or whether members would interview Stern. A source close to the SEIU has said that an aide to Stern was informed six years ago of allegations involving Freeman's finances and personal relationships.

The aide, Steve Trossman, has told The Times that he did not talk to Freeman about the accusations and could not recall whether Stern was informed.

The source, who told of discussing the allegations with Trossman, said they included complaints that Freeman fathered a child with a staffer, Pilar Planells, who later became his wife. Stern's representatives have said that no "factual allegations" had been brought to his attention before The Times' disclosures.


Another ACORN fraud in Ohio?

More ACORN stories: here

Elections officials everywhere riled by union-backed group

Cuyahoga County officials have accused ACORN, the GOTV organization employed by Barack Obama’s campaign, of voter registration fraud — again. The Board of Elections has begun a criminal investigation into the submission of fraudulent registration cards, with an eye to prosecuting ACORN officials (via Bizzyblog):
A national organization that conducts voter registration drives for low-income people has curtailed its push in Cuyahoga County after the Board of Elections accused its workers of submitting fraudulent registration cards.

The board is investigating the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now[.] Results of the inquiry could be turned over to the county prosecutor.

Board employees said ACORN workers often handed in the same name on a number of voter registration cards, but showing that person living at different addresses. Other times, cards had the same name listed, but a different date of birth. Still another sign of possible fraud showed a number of people living at an address that turned out to be a restaurant.
ACORN has a long history of alleged fraud in their registration drives. All of their improprieties have gone to the benefit of Democrats, and Democrats have not stinted on their appreciation. Here in Minnesota, failed gubernatorial candidate Mike Hatch diverted thousands of dollars to ACORN from a lawsuit settlement as Attorney General. Democrats in Congress sent millions to ACORN as part of the economic stimulus plan in February and in the housing bailout bill in April.

What did Democrats subsidize with these gifts to ACORN? A rap sheet years long, including in Ohio:
2007: A man in Reynoldsburg was indicted on two felony counts of illegal voting and false registration, after being registered by ACORN to vote in two separate counties.

2004: A grand jury indicted a Columbus ACORN worker for submitting a false signature and false voter registration form. In Franklin County, two ACORN workers submitted what the director of the board of election supervisors called “blatantly false” forms. In Cuyahoga County, ACORN and its affiliate Project Vote submitted registration cards that had the highest rate of errors for any voter registration group.
In examining the record, one has to wonder why Congress hasn’t demanded a RICO investigation of ACORN instead of trying to find ways to fund its pattern of fraud. The Democratic majority apparently feels that they need ACORN to conduct fraud on a massive scale in order to cement their grip on power. And, since their presidential candidate just had to amend his campaign finance records to show an $800,000 contract with ACORN, it seems Barack Obama’s supposed “reform” rests on the same kind of fraud.


Forced-labor unionism is outdated

Unions harass, intimidate workers who don't join

Unionist Nick Lutz claims that existing labor law allows workers and employers to "work with each other on a private and voluntary basis" ("Amendment 47 would be a disaster for workers," Letters, Aug. 12). While it's true that workers can decline "full" union membership in unioncontrolled workplaces, Lutz deceptively leaves out a few facts about what happens after that decision.

For starters, union dues are still deducted from the worker's paycheck involuntarily. This means that workers who don't want to support the union still have to pay up in order to keep their job.

Workers who don't join the union frequently have their names publicly posted at the jobsite in order to make them outcasts. They subsequently become targets for harassment, intimidation and even physical abuse, sending the message that the union's offer shouldn't be refused. On top of that, unions often make the work rules that determine shift assignments and overtime. Workers who decline union membership likely won't get choice assignments or higher-paying overtime hours. It's not surprising, then, that most workers decide on full membership, even if they don't support unionism.

Lutz goes on to claim that states with right to work laws "consistently perform at a poorer economic level than states without" such laws. Any honest look at Michigan's economy will quickly disprove that assertion. My home state is a glaring example of what happens after decades of control by unions. Companies and entire industries have been run into the ground, due in large part to the ridiculous labor contracts extorted by powerful unions, resulting in tens of thousands of job losses, the worst economy in the nation, and an environment hostile to new businesses. Lutz can call Amendment 47 the "right to work for less" if he likes, but in the modern global economy, it's ultimately the right to work at all.

- Jon Kolb, Colorado Springs, CO


Feds may confront union bigs

More card-check stories: here

U.S. preps secret-ballot order to protect workers

The Bush administration is weighing an executive order that would eliminate a union-preferred method of labor organizing at large government contractors, according to people familiar with the situation.

Labor leaders prefer a card-check system in which workers can form a union if a majority of them sign a union-authorization card. Companies generally prefer a secret-ballot election.

The issue has become a factor in some Senate races and the presidential campaign. Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, supports legislation favoring the card-check approach. Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, opposes such legislation.

The executive order would require large government contractors to use secret-ballot elections for union organizing or risk losing government contracts, say people familiar with the order. Though companies typically prefer secret ballots, some are willing to accept card checks to avoid a fight.

It isn't clear if the order would apply to a company's entire operations or only those operations serving the government. According to a person familiar with a draft of the order, it would exclude companies with small government contracts.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto declined to comment on the matter. It is possible President George W. Bush would choose not to sign the order being prepared by lower-ranking officials, people familiar with the matter said.

Union leaders believe the order, if issued, could derail some current organizing drives. Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, said his union is negotiating a card-check agreement with a large defense contractor and the order "could very well affect us." The union represents 75,000 engineers and technical workers at Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and General Electric Co., among other companies.

Rick Berman runs the Washington-based Center for Union Facts, which opposes card-check campaigns. He said he was aware of the order and called it "long overdue." He said the order shows "the government is not going to promote the hijacking of democracy through their government-contracting process."

Labor officials who have heard of the plans criticized the idea. "This is politics at its worst," said Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO's director of government affairs. He called the order a gift to the business community "from the most antiunion administration that we've seen."

Both sides said Sen. Obama would likely revoke the order if elected. A Democratic-controlled Congress could also override it, and the order could face a court challenge.

It is easier for unions to get workers to sign cards because organizers can approach workers repeatedly, over a period of weeks or months, until the union garners enough support. Employers argue that the card system could lead to workers being pressured to sign by prounion colleagues. Unions counter that employers often unfairly pressure workers prior to elections.

Sen. Obama has declared his support for a proposed federal Employee Free Choice Act that would let unions use card checks anytime they wished.

Companies currently can insist on a secret-ballot election. Business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are advertising in states with key Senate races to oppose the legislation.

John Raudabaugh, a National Labor Relations Board member during the George H.W. Bush presidential administration, says he thinks such an order would be designed to bolster Republicans' opposition to card checks. "I think it's in response to the incredible amount of effort that the unions have put into pushing the Employee Free Choice Act," he said.


Analyst: Unions waste workers' dues

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Federal reports reveal wasteful overspending unrelated to collective bargaining

Administrative and overhead costs for unions are unusually high, and spending on workers’ representation — the core task of labor unions — is correspondingly low, according to a study released today by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. "Union Spending in Michigan: A Review of Union Financial Disclosure Reports," examined national, state and local data from federal LM-2 reports for six prominent unions and used the information to create estimated budgets.

Director of Labor Policy Paul Kersey’s review of union financial reports shows that less than half of a typical union member’s dues go into representation, which was nearly matched by the costs of overhead and administration. In contrast, a typical nonprofit will usually try to keep overhead and administrative costs at around half of what is spent on its core programs. Overall, six unions, all with a significant presence in Michigan, were examined: Teamsters, National Education Association/Michigan Education Association, United Auto Workers, Service Employees International Union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

"Our review of union reports indicates that Michigan unions tend to have rather bloated operations, with high operating costs. Our research also suggests that unions in Michigan are not focused on representing workers," said Kersey. With only 29.5 percent of its spending dedicated to representation, the National Education Association appears to be the least focused on its members and their workplace concerns.

The report also notes numerous flaws that remain in the current union financial reporting system, such as a loose definition of what constitutes representation spending, or the ability of unions to treat their fundraising mechanisms as representation. In some cases, contributions to overtly political organizations were listed by the unions under representation. "On the whole these loopholes tend to work in the unions’ favor," Kersey noted, "but even with these very generous rules, most unions spend less than half of their funds on worker representation."

Michigan currently allows for workers to be forced to pay union dues or agency fees as a term of employment under collective bargaining agreements. In recent years, as Michigan’s economy has struggled, there has been increased interest in a state right-to-work law, under which workers could not be forced to pay union dues or fees. Prior Mackinac Center research has shown that right-to-work states have outperformed Michigan in terms of economic growth and job creation.

"We give unions in this state tremendous power and access to financial resources," Kersey concluded, "but the financial reports indicate that unions in Michigan may be misusing what we have given them."


Should Michigan remain a labor-state?

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Worker-choice advocate speaks out

In March of 2007 I introduced legislation to make Michigan a right-to-work state.

Simply stated, in an RTW state, an employee who works for a company that has a collective bargaining agreement with a union is not required to join that union or pay dues to that union. Currently in Michigan, an employee of a company that is represented by a union may be compelled to pay dues or an "agency fee" to the union that represents the workers.

I believe that the single greatest policy change we could make to turn around Michigan's economy is to make Michigan an RTW state. There is plenty of compelling data to support this assertion. Consider:

• Between 1986 and 2006, 11 RTW states added 104,000 auto manufacturing jobs, while non-RTW states lost 130,000 auto jobs.

• Between 1970 and 2000, manufacturing employment in RTW states grew by 1.43 million, while in non-RTW states it declined by 2.18 million.

• In the last few years, nine of the top 10 fastest-growing states are RTW; Michigan is 48th in population growth.

• In RTW states, unemployment is below the national average. In Michigan it is about 3 percent higher than the national average.

• Employment over the last 20-plus years has grown 20.2 percent in RTW states. It has grown 11.3 percent in non-RTW states.

Of further interest, especially in this, the home of automobile manufacturing, is the fact that in the last 20 years or so, virtually every new assembly plant built in North America was built in a right-to-work state. This does not include replacement plants such as GM's Delta plant.

There are many other compelling comparisons between RTW states and those that are not, including that RTW states have faster growth in construction employment, a higher share of population of people who own their own homes, higher average annual incomes, faster growth in personal income, much lower percentage of residents receiving welfare payments and substantially higher numbers of residents and children covered by private health insurance.

I believe that RTW is really about freedom of choice. Employees should have the choice whether to be a member of a collective bargaining unit or not. Labor unions have done much to improve working conditions for rank-and-file employees. There is an important role for unions to play in representing the interests of the worker to the employer.

But I believe that the best union is one that has earned the right to represent the worker.

The facts are convincing. Michigan would do well to become a right-to-work state.

- Jack Hoogendyk is a State Representative from Kalamazoo.


SEIU: Which Way The Arrows Are Pointing

More Andy Stern stories: hereTyrone Freeman stories: here

Andy Stern's corruption damages the labor movement

There was a dark time in America when the name "Unions" were synonymous with greed and corruption. The members, rank and file, of these organizations have worked long, hard and have endured much to try and change the public perception of their organizations. As it is true with some of the most prominent leaders and their administrations, it is, unfortunately, the scandals that people remember most.

The long road to change this public perception is indeed a delicate one, to be sure. The roll of rank and file involvement, and democracy, within a Union plays a more important role than just an adherence to procedure and protocol. Democracy is the procedural foundation of America itself. History is replete with examples of its absence and where this leads to. People, to this day, continue to pursue it ... sometimes at great social and physical sacrifice. Democracy is also one of the most important tools that the Labor Movement has left, to secure integrity and confidence in the eyes of the public, and most importantly, to the rank and file.

The Labor Movement in America, in general, takes a hit when corruption in its leadership, or even the appearance of corruption, rears its ugly head in any international union. There is a tendency of the public to paint with a broad brush-stroke. This also makes it harder on the rank and file to find empowerment and continue in their struggle to unite and improve their lives. Corruption in union leadership is a set-back and distraction from the efforts of the rank and file to overcome the perceived abuses of the past.

That's what makes the recent developments of Los Angeles based SEIU Local 6434 so disconcerting. The appointed President, Tyrone Freeman, has "stepped aside" after investigations by the media.

Why is this so disconcerting? For a couple of reasons;

1) Because it took the media to investigate and police the financial dealings of the local's appointed President (Freeman), and

2) Because the International President, Andy Stern (who appointed Freeman)was busy trying to attack a dissident Local President, Sal Rosselli of United Healthcare Workers- West (UHW-W), with an expensive, vexatious Federal law suit. Ironically, Mr. Stern was also accusing Mr. Rosselli, of financial improprieties, which did not result in any adverse findings by any court (See SEIU -v- Sal Rosselli, et al., case # CV 08-2777-JFW (PLAx))

It is interesting to note that Mr. Stern's "modern approach" to local union governance is not consistent with the traditional "democratic practices", that have worked to avoid the past abuses, or appearance of abuses, by directly involving the rank and file members in important decision making, elections and checks and balances within their own locals. Mr. Stern's loyalty-based leadership practices, although procedurally streamlining, does not leave room for the normal checks and balances usually handled by the rank and file and/or rank and file elected officers.

With regards to the first point, there appears to be evidence that someone high level, in SEIU, was aware that there may have been improprieties "involving Freeman's finances and personal relationships" as far back as six years ago. If there is anything resembling truth to this statement, it does not bode
well for the SEIU administration as a whole. It would represent a disconnect with reality and the inability to lead with integrity. The whole "Labor Movement" could be dealt quite a blow.

A leadership decision now needs to be made; should the SEIU administration "fess up" and admit that there were lapses in judgment regarding the administrative choices in local leadership? Or should SEIU engage in finger-pointing, scapegoating and cover-ups?

The problem here is that the former would be an admission that "Corporate Unionism" has drawbacks that could have far-reaching consequences and not just within SEIU. But if the latter is also unsuccessful, there may be ubiquitous internal thunder for a change of International leadership.

There is also evidence that there have been other improprieties with other SEIU locals. In the State of Nevada, Local 1107 experienced election improprieties that resulted in involvement by the Department of Labor, according to a June 25, 2008 article, by Michael Mishak in the Las Vegas Sun. Another Stern appointed leader resigned after the investigation was initiated.

In California, prior to the 2008 SEIU Convention, according to an April 9, 2008 article in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, a complaint was signed by 16 SEIU Local 1021 officials, including numerous members of the local's executive board. It called on the local election committee to remove Davis-Howard (Stern Appointee) "from the elected Delegate list" and to bar "Salsa Team" members from attending the convention in June, 2008. The Salsa Team was allegedly a group of SEIU insiders formed to discredit Mr. Sal Rosselli prior to the 2008 SEIU convention in Puerto Rico.

In Georgia, SEIU Local 1985 was put in trusteeship in March 2007, with the impression given to its rank and file members that it would be restored and put "back on its feet". Instead the members were handed over to the National Association of Government Employees, without any vote, election or due process. They are now in a campaign "demanding member control of our union and the right to chose our leadership".

Clearly, there are a growing number of dissatisfied rank and filers who have more reason to complain about the current direction of their SEIU union. Sterns visions about where he's taking SEIU are becoming shared only by loyalists and insiders who have something to gain by not contradicting Sterns determination and publishing glowing reviews about how fast the union is growing..... instead of WHERE the union is going. Is the growth of the union more important than the direction? Does how matter more than why? Is there a connection between a lack of union democracy and union corruption?

How SEIU leadership handles the latest Local 6434 matter will be telling indeed. What will be told, and what will be withheld, will say a lot about....which way the arrows are pointing.

- Dan Mariscal, Steward SEIU Los Angeles, CA


SEIU goes on strike v. LAX for Labor Day

More strike stories: here

Militant unionists take a stand

Some 1,500 workers at Los Angeles International Airport went on strike on Thursday in a contract dispute with companies providing baggage, security and wheelchair services for several major airlines there.

The walkout began as the world's fifth busiest passenger airport -- and third busiest in the United States -- headed into the bustling Labor Day holiday weekend, during which an estimated 825,000 travelers are expected to pass through LAX.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1877 has been negotiating since May with a group of companies contracted to provide various ground services for major carriers, primarily American, United and Southwest airlines.

The contract at issue in the strike would cover 1,500 workers, mostly skycaps, baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants and terminal security personnel.

The union is negotiating two more separate contracts covering another 1,000 workers, including terminal and aircraft cabin cleaners, but they have not joined the strike as yet.

The union is demanding higher wages, improved health-care coverage and more training for its members, who the union says currently earn an average of USD$19,000 a year.

Union spokesman Tanya Aquino said the improved wages and benefits sought by the union would add less than 25 cents to the cost of an average airline ticket.

Airline and airport officials declined comment except to say the strike posed no immediate major disruptions. A spokesman for the industry bargaining agent declined comment.

The strike comes as airlines are being squeezed by rising fuel costs that are being passed on to consumers in the form of higher ticket prices and additional surcharges.

Union supporters argue that levels of service and security standards hinge on the working conditions of the striking employees, and that airlines have a responsibility to support improved wages and benefits for service workers.

Danny Feingold of the LA Alliance for a New Economy, a non-profit organization backing the union, said major airlines have received over USD$8 billion in government subsidies since 2001 while continuing to outsource more service work to low-paying contractors.

Several hundred workers walked picket lines Thursday afternoon around the terminals of LAX, which tallied nearly 62 million travelers last year.


What union bigs want for Labor Day

More EFCA stories: here

Forced dues, corruption, no accountability

Every four years, pundits look forward to Labor Day as the launch of the "real" election season. This year, it's especially appropriate, since organized labor is going all-out to influence not only the November outcome, but policy into the next president's term. With the Democrats' control of Congress likely to continue, and possibly expand, and the presidential contest a toss-up at this writing, it is worth asking: What does Big Labor want?

At the top of the unions' policy agenda is the misleadingly named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would mandate an organizing method known as "card check" whenever a union requests it.

Facing a decades-old private-sector membership decline, unions have sought other organizing strategies, and card check has been among the most effective. Card check circumvents secret ballot elections by requiring only that a majority of employees sign union cards for a workplace to become unionized. Employees are often urged to sign cards publicly and in the presence of union organizers, which exposes them to high-pressure tactics which the secret ballot is designed to avoid.

Were federal law to establish card check as union's chief organizing tactic, Big Labor would find it easier to corral new members who might be reluctant or unwilling, but would no longer enjoy the privacy of the voting booth.

So what would their dues money gain these thousands of new union members? An unfolding corruption scandal and a look at the state of union pension funds don't paint a promising picture.

THIS MONTH, Tyrone Freeman, the head of California's largest union local, was forced to resign amid mounting allegations of misuse of members' union dues -- including, reports the Los Angeles Times, "nearly $300,000 last year on a Four Seasons Resorts golf tournament, a Beverly Hills cigar club, restaurants such as Morton's steakhouse and a consulting contract with the William Morris Agency, the Hollywood talent shop, records show."

The local union, based in Los Angeles, is affiliated with the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the most powerful unions in the United States and one of the most aggressive in organizing private sector workers.

The Times' investigation relied in part on "the union's U.S. Labor Department filings," which, as a result of improved reporting requirements, are available online at UnionReports.gov. This site allows individual union members to see how union officials are spending their dues money -- without having to ask the union officials themselves.

The AFL-CIO loudly opposed the Labor Department's new reporting requirements, which in reality were a long-overdue overhaul to a dysfunctional system. Under the old reporting requirements (filed in form LM-2), unions could report literally millions of dollars in expenses under such meaningless descriptions as "sundry expenses."

Expect a union-friendly Congress to help labor bosses return to the financial opacity they so fiercely defended -- and which could allow the likes of Tyrone Freeman carry on their spendthrift ways.

Finally, new union members should consider their retirement security. In recent years, many labor unions have sought to leverage their pension funds to push for policy goals at public companies' shareholder meetings, which may have nothing to do with union members' interests.

For example, the SEIU and UNITE-HERE, the textile and hospitality union, have joined with environmental activist groups to pressure corporate America to adopt policies to reduce their "carbon footprint" -- their amount of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

JOINING WITH environmentalists is now an established union tactic. Labor unions increasingly rely on their allies to attack a targeted company's record on "sweatshop" labor, environmental pollution, and other issues, thus obscuring the union's self-interested motive in gaining economic concessions from the company.

Now, it appears that unions are leveraging their pension funds to push companies to adopt policies favored by green activists -- even when they don't benefit the unions' own members, who bear the cost of such activism.

Today, most union pension plans are funded at levels much below those of pension plans provided by private employers, according to a recent Hudson Institute study.

"Union-negotiated pension schemes consistently maintain dangerously low ratios of assets to liabilities," notes Diana Furchtgott-Roth, the study's author and former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor. "Although nearly 90 percent of non-union funds had at least 80 percent of the funds they need, only 60 percent of union plans were at or above that mark."

Compared to pension plans for rank-and-file employees, the pensions funds for union officers and staff were in much better shape -- which undermines the argument that lower pension fund values could be explained by weaknesses in the economy or the stock market. "The success of the officers' funds shows the heads of the national organization know how to properly fund a pension plan if they choose to," explains Furchtgott-Roth.

But apparently many union officials choose to pursue activism in causes that don't directly benefit their members, instead. Corralling in new members would allow this Ponzi scheme-like arrangement to continue, feeding money into underperforming pension funds.

So, to answer our original question, Big Labor wants more members and more dues money to spend on politics -- and it wants Uncle Sam's help in getting them.

Happy Labor Day!

- Ivan Osorio is editorial director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He is the author of the new essay, "Union Pension Funds Go Green: But It's Not the Color of Money," published in Capital Research Center's September Labor Watch.


Labor Day: Don't end secret-ballot elections

More EFCA stories: here

Union bigs care more about dues than democracy

Labor Day signals the beginning of the sprint toward the November elections, when Americans cast a secret ballot for the candidates of their choice. Sadly, this year - whether they know it or not - voters may very well be deciding whether to do away with that sacred tradition when it comes to union organizing campaigns.

That's because the fate of legislation called the Employee Free Choice Act - better known as the Card Check law - may depend on what happens in November. Unions are pouring as much as $400 million into the 2008 campaign to ensure that the next Congress will pass Card Check, effectively stripping workers of the private ballot.

How would this unprecedented power grab work?

Traditional union organizing relies on secret-ballot elections overseen by the federal government. Prior to the election, both unions and employers make their cases to workers. If more than 50 percent of workers then vote to form a union, the employer must recognize that union and begin collective bargaining.

The key is that regardless of what either side tells workers, and regardless of what workers say about their intentions, individual workers get to make their final decisions in private, and no one knows how they voted. This is a critical protection that assures honest elections.

The Card Check law, however, would essentially abolish secret-ballot elections. Instead, union organizers would simply ask workers to sign a card. Any worker who refused could be asked over and over again, and even be repeatedly visited by union organizers in their homes.

Once a bare majority was persuaded to sign a card, the union would be recognized, and it would be illegal to have a secret ballot election. All workers would then be forced into the union, whether they had signed a card, whether they wanted an election and whether they even knew there was an organizing drive under way.

So how do unions justify this violation of workers' freedom?

Unions argue that Card Check would not get rid of secret-ballot elections; it would just give workers the choice of organizing through an election or by Card Check.

In reality, since union organizers are the ones gathering the cards, they would decide which method to use - and the $400 million they are spending to pass Card Check makes their intentions absolutely clear.

Moreover, Section 2 of the legislation states that the government "shall not direct an election." And as The Los Angeles Times wrote in 2007, "The legislation would do away with a secret ballot in so-called organizing elections."

Unions also claim that Card Check is needed because there is too much pressure put on workers during secret-ballot elections.

Indeed, during election campaigns, workers can face real pressure from unions, from employers and from co-workers. But Card Check will make this worse. Forcing workers to sign cards publicly is simply an open invitation for harassment, coercion and intimidation that would make current organizing practices seem tame by comparison.

Finally, unions claim that Card Check is the only way to ensure that workers can really express free choice. But unions don't want to use Card Check procedures when workers vote on decertifying a union. For that process, unions still advocate the secret ballot. Seems they want an easy way in, but don't want workers to have an easy way out.

Casting a private ballot has been an American right since the beginning of the Republic. This Labor Day, workers need to be on the lookout for those who want to take that right away.

- Thomas J. Donohue, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


Card-check: Organized labor double-standard

More EFCA stories: here

How to herd disinterested workers into unions and keep them there

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) poses a significant threat to union-free employers, and these companies must mobilize to fight the efforts to make this bill law, according to Pepper Hamilton LLP, a multi-practice law firm.

The EFCA would substantially change the procedure for employees selecting union representation, moving from a private voting booth to a signed card or petition. This would allow unions to be formed almost immediately, as opposed to the traditional six-week campaign. Yet, for a union to be decertified, votes must be cast via secret ballot.

The bill also stipulates that a federal mediator will have the power to impose a binding two-year contract if the union and the employer cannot agree upon a collective bargaining agreement within a four-month period.

“If passed, the EFCA will represent the most dramatic change in labor relations since the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935, which established the National Labor Relations Board,” said Jonathan Kane, a partner with Pepper Hamilton and head of the firm’s Labor and Employment Group.

“The act will make it extraordinarily easy for unions to organize in both the ‘traditional’ sectors and many other segments of the service community.

“Furthermore, it is reasonable to assume that public peer pressure will prevail, and that some employees may face subtle or even explicit intimidation since their vote will not be cast in secret,” continued Kane, who is a fellow of The College of Labor and Employment Lawyers and management chair of the Practice and Procedure Committee Under the NLRA of the American Bar Association’s Employment Section, where this topic and the variety of new procedures will be debated with vigor.

“Under the current system, the typical union campaign lasts approximately six weeks. During that time, the employer has the opportunity to educate its workers on the realities of joining a union, which can include dues and strikes,” said Kane. “But under the system proposed by EFCA, a card or petition signed in the emotion of the moment can result in a two year collective bargaining contract.”

Together, these factors and other expected outcomes of the proposed bill should give employers cause for concern. However, there are many businesses that remain unaware of the legislation and have not even begun to plan countermeasures.

“The danger of a petition or card signing makes a thorough re-evaluation of company policies, procedures and practices worthwhile,” said Kane. “Employers can implement a number of prudent and cost-effective measures that will increase worker satisfaction and prevent unionization.”

These measures include:

* An accurate external review and assessment of policies and practices, compensation, management training, communications systems and problem-solving procedures.

* The creation of auditing and survey mechanisms to ensure the company’s policies, procedures and practices continue to be assessed and corrected on an ongoing basis.

* Establishing cooperative management/employee committees and conducting surveys of employee satisfaction and overall job happiness.

“Happy workers are far harder to organize than unhappy employees,” said Kane. “The best approach employers can take is to make sure their workforce is genuinely satisfied. The old adage that ‘unions don’t win elections, companies lose them’ is still true.”

Whether or not the Employee Free Choice Act becomes law will be impacted by the upcoming presidential election. Sen. Barack Obama has vowed to sign the bill into law if elected, while Sen. John McCain voted against the bill.

“If adopted, the EFCA will significantly undermine elections as a way to engage union representation,” said Kane. “Additionally, the EFCA will reflect the government’s clear support of the unions in first contract situations, rather than providing a neutral bargaining framework for both parties.”


Unions turn to Congress for bailout

More EFCA stories: here

What to do about disinterested workers? Pass a law to force them into unions.

A landmark federal law has been the blueprint for labor organizing in America for generations, but frustrated union leaders want to change the process and have targeted the 2008 election as the way to do it.

Companies and union leaders have been governed by the National Labor Relations Act since the New Deal law was enacted in 1935. But today's labor leaders say the law is outdated and gives employers huge advantages in organizing situations.

The Employee Free Choice Act would be the biggest shift in federal labor law since the 1940s, and people on both sides of this issue agree on one thing: The presidential election and, probably, the battle for firm control of the U.S. Senate, may decide whether this act becomes law.

For decades, the process of a work force becoming unionized has been based on a secret-ballot election. First, workers with interest in a union sign authorization cards. If 30% sign, the National Labor Relations Board schedules an election that the government agency supervises, and a majority vote brings in a union.

The proposed law, sometimes called the "card check" law, would force employers to recognize the union as the workers' bargaining agent if 50% sign the authorization cards. It would streamline the process from its current from six weeks to what could be a matter of days.

Few employers are aware of this issue or its possible consequences, said Tom Lenz, an employment lawyer with Cerritos-based firm Atkinson, Andelson, Loya Ruud and Romo and a former attorney for the National Labor Relations Board in Los Angeles.

"I think in many instances there is a lack of awareness on how important it is to unions and the Democratic agenda," Lenz said. "Unions have been able to fly under the radar with this, but people who follow it know it would radically change the way unions can organize."
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Photo By Claudia Bustamonte / The Press-Enterprise
Close to 100 Inland Valley Medical Center nurses and supporters picketed and held a candlelight vigil in 2005 to protest the union's stalled negotiations with the hospital.

It passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007 on a party-line vote but did not pass the Senate. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was a co-sponsor in the Senate and is likely to sign it if he's elected.

"If Obama wins it has a chance," said Ruth Milkman, a UCLA sociology professor and director of the UC Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. "But there's no way George Bush would sign it."

Opponents of the measure say it goes against the democratic principles of the secret ballot. A signed authorization card tells union leaders who favored the union and who did not.

Also, the law would force employers to start negotiating contracts within 10 days, and calls for federal mediation and arbitration if the bargaining takes more than three months.

Unions say these time frames - the six weeks before and election and the months, sometimes many months, before that first contract is agreed on - give employers a home-field advantage they exploit, sometimes unethically and illegally.

For example, employers can order workers to attend lectures during work hours on company property where officials will try to dissuade workers from voting in favor of the union. Union recruiters are not allowed on the employers' grounds. Often national companies will spend heavily on outside consultants to run these sessions.

Also, unions say employers use the run-up time to intimidate or threaten workers. Several employers in Inland Southern California have faced National Labor Relations Board charges about these threats. And, if the union is ratified, often the employer is under no pressure to bargain with its workers for a contract.

Leaders of the California Nurses Association say all this happened at Inland Valley Medical Center in Wildomar, where registered nurses voted to unionize in 2004. Initially the hospital attempted to hold up the vote by asking it to include nurses at a hospital in Murrieta owned by the same corporation, King of Prussia, Pa.-based Universal Health Services Inc.

The National Labor Relations Board disagreed and ordered the election to go forward. Nurses ratified the union in May 2004, but almost two years passed with no contract, and nurses, paying union dues with nothing to show for it, voted to decertify CNA.

That election was so rife with intimidating and coercive tactics by hospital executives and an outside consultant that a federal judge ordered it set aside. A second election was ordered, but the nurses union withdrew last month and gave up its effort to represent the hospital's nurses.

Under current law the remedies for employers who break the law consist of posting notices over the time clock or in a lunchroom admitting their guilt. The EFCA as currently proposed, includes fines of up to $20,000 per instance.

"Employers have had basically free reign" to skirt the law using these tactics, said Mike Bergen, secretary-treasurer of Bloomington-based Teamsters Local 166, which represents Inland Southern California warehouse and production workers, among others. "I know what the law is, but employers do try to scare and intimidate workers."

Bergen, whose local has tried without success to organize Lowe's Cos. Inc's massive distribution center in Perris, said this law will benefit all workers and not just those whose shops are targets for organizers.

"The EFCA would let them get over the hump to where they want to be," Bergin said. "Other employers will get their people's pay and benefits up just to keep us out, so in that regard, everyone wins."

The current law calls for 42 calendar days between when a union submits a petition and when the National Labor Relations Board schedules an election. James Small, regional director of Region 21, which covers Riverside County, said complications often arise with petitions but regions manage to hit that deadline 90 percent of the time.

"The current process is fair," said Lenz, the employment lawyer and former NLRB attorney. "The National Labor Relations Board does a good, admirable job, and their credibility is being besmirched. The agency exists so employees can have a choice."

But the provision in the EFCA that calls for federal mediators or arbitrators to facilitate the first contract is likely to be the most onerous for businesses. "Arbitration" is a word that makes business leaders blanch because it means an outsider is making critical decisions for private industry.

"I think it's the most offensive part of the EFCA, and a lot of lawyers think it's unconstitutional," said George Howard, an employment attorney with Jones Day in San Diego.


AFSCME rips labor-state Dem Gov. over cuts

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Jumbo government workers' union takes a big dues hit

The Blagojevich administration is planning to cut more than 450 jobs and close nearly two dozen state parks and historic sites in response to the state’s lingering budget impasse. One union official described the plan as a "bloodbath" that will have wide-ranging effects on the services provided to state taxpayers.

The Department of Children and Family Services will lose 304 positions, while the Department of Human Services will be cut by 73 employees. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources will lose 39 workers and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency will be cut by 34 employees.

Parks targeted for closure include Moraine View State Park near LeRoy, Hidden Springs State Forest in Shelby County, Wolf Creek State Park near Windsor and Weldon Springs State Park in DeWitt County.

Historic sites on the chopping block include the David Davis Mansion in Bloomington, Lincoln Log Cabin near Charleston, the Bryant Cottage in Bement, the Cahokia Courthouse in Cahokia and Bishop Hill.

The cuts hit three sites in Randolph County -- Fort Kaskaskia, Fort de Chartres and the Pierre Menard Home.

The historic sites will close Oct. 1 while parks will close Nov. 1.

Blagojevich has said the cuts are necessary because the governor slashed $1.4 billion from the state’s spending plan in July. He says the Democrat-controlled legislature wanted to spend more money than the state will receive in the coming fiscal year.

State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, said the governor is trying to force the General Assembly to return to Springfield to approve new revenue streams.

’’I know he’s trying to make people feel the pain,’’ Luechtefeld said.

State Rep. Bob Flider, D-Mount Zion, said he was "flabbergasted" to learn of the cuts from a vendor at one of the parks affected by the closing.

"The Blagojevich administration did not have the class to let me know so I can begin working on a solution to this problem," Flider said.

Flider said the closure of Wolf Creek State Park in his district would have a major impact on businesses that rely on the 400,000 visitors who use the facility.

Jonathan Goldman, director of the Illinois Environmental Council, called the cuts ’’utterly appalling.’’

’’The governor is off at the Democratic convention in Denver hugging people. When he returns to Illinois there will be many families needing more than hugs,’’ Goldman said.

DNR spokesman Chris McCloud said park entrances will be locked Nov. 1. People who venture into the parks after that date could be charged with trespassing.

’’These aren’t decisions we wanted to make,’’ McCloud said.

The cuts come as other state agencies are grappling with the effects of the governor’s actions.

On Wednesday, Comptroller Dan Hynes said his office was poised to lay off workers. Other statewide officers have imposed hiring freezes and are asking whether some workers want to take early retirement in a bid to trim costs.

Secretary of State Jesse White is mulling whether to close some driver’s license facilities.

Blagojevich also has tied his plan to close Pontiac Correctional Center to the budget impasse.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union vowed to fight to keep its workers on the job.

’’Lawmakers should return to Springfield as soon as possible to take whatever action is necessary to fix the budget and stop these cuts,’’ AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Henry Bayer said.

The cuts at the Department of Natural Resources are troubling to some lawmakers because the agency has already lost scores of workers.

’’It’s obviously unfortunate,’’ said state Rep. Kurt Granberg, D-Carlyle.

Granberg, who is retiring as a lawmaker, said it will be a challenge rebuilding the state park system if money is ever restored to reopen them.

’’It’s going to be a hard road,’’ Granberg said.


Anti-business Dems pose as worker-friendly

No evidence that unionism would "rebuild the middle class"

An article of faith for almost all the Democrats at the Denver convention is that the country's much-diminished trade-union movement needs to be revived. Membership has fallen to less than 10 percent of the private-sector workforce. This decline is a main reason, it is argued, for stagnating middle-class wages. Public policy, say the Democrats, can help.

The rallying-point is the proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a measure co-sponsored by Barack Obama and already passed by the house of representatives. Mr Obama promises to sign it into law as president, if the senate moves it forward and it reaches his desk. Politically and on its merits, however, this is an ill-advised piece of legislation.

EFCA's most sought-after provision is a "card-check" rule that would oblige employers to recognise a union and bargain with it if half the workforce signed cards saying that they were in favour. Labour law varies from state to state but the current procedure usually requires a secret ballot, which protects workers from intimidation. John McCain has opposed the change and advocates a Secret Ballot Protection Act instead.

The unions have a point when they complain of intimidation by employers. EFCA would stiffen penalties for firms that bully union sympathisers, which is both desirable and good politics. But the card-check initiative is what the party is emphasising, and otherwise pro-union voters are bound to have mixed feelings about it.

A secret ballot protects workers who want union recognition as well as those who do not. That is why opposing it arouses suspicion. Membership has fallen at least partly because workers themselves doubt that unions best serve their interests, and with reason. Opposition to secret ballots does not reassure them. It is a self-serving demand, and plays badly with the centrists the Democrats need to bring in. It is bad politics, therefore, as well as bad law.

A broader question is whether weak unions are part of what ails the middle-income workforce. Their decline probably explains some of the wage slowdown--although the most striking aspect of the country's growing inequality is the astonishing growth in the very highest incomes, an unrelated issue. The right kind of unionism can raise wages and advance workers' interests while improving a company's competitiveness. The wrong kind, as the UK knows only too well, can cripple industries and indeed whole economies.

The secret of success, arguably, is a culture of accommodation and non-confrontation. Unions can make it easier for firms to work in closer partnership with their employees, to their mutual advantage. But if the relationship is framed as nothing but a contest over rents--a zero-sum game, with no holds barred--the drawbacks seem likely to predominate. What may concern centrist voters is that Democrats are apt to press the unions' case in precisely this spirit of confrontation. Anti-business sentiment is a dominant note at the convention. EFCA's most enthusiastic advocates would like nothing better than to grind the faces of the bosses. You do not have to be a boss to be wary of that.


SEIU mini-strike fails at 5 hospitals

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Porous picket line violated by most union members

About 350 unionized service employees at five California hospitals, including one in Lynwood, staged a one-day strike Thursday amid contract negotiations with the Daughters of Charity Health System.

Roughly 40 percent of the employees represented by SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West -- food service, housekeeping and transport staff -- stayed away from work at St. Francis Medical Center, while about 100 picketed outside, said Daughters of Charity spokeswoman Beth Nikels.

The strike has not affected service to patients, said Nikels. She said about 350 service workers statewide struck Thursday.

"There has been minimal, if any, impact on operations," she said. "We're doing everything we can to negotiate an equitable contract."

Contract negotiations for more than 2,400 caregivers have been ongoing since March. The union issued a statement Thursday alleging that Daughters of Charity officials were negotiating in bad faith by making unacceptable proposals. SEIU officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

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