The Shape of Things to Come?

Over the weekend, The Oregonian posted a genuinely disturbing piece on union political activism at the state and local level. According to the article, union officials poured massive amounts of money and resources into nearly every Oregon election this past May. The results were truly staggering (emphasis mine):

"Most candidates with union backing won . . . The net result was a monster victory for labor groups that helped solidify their role as one of the state's top power brokers.

Unions played key roles in statewide victories for secretary of state candidate Kate Brown attorney general candidate John Kroger and U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Merkley. But they also got involved locally, helping Sam Adams win the Portland mayoral contest, Democrat Michael Dembrow win the House District 45 primary in Northeast Portland, and Dennis Doyle oust Beaverton Mayor Rob Drake.

The outcome left Republicans grumbling about the increasing influence of unions in state government. And it left little doubt that labor's agenda will get red-carpet treatment when the 2009 Legislature meets in January."

Unfortunately, Big Labor's success at the state and local level foreshadows what could be an even more impressive showing in national elections this November. As the most recent issue of Foundation Action (subscribe now - it's free!) explains, unions are going for " . . . the trifecta: the House, the Senate, and the White House," according to American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) head Gerald McEntee.

From a recent Wall Street Journal article, the scope of union political activism is truly astounding, even for an election year (emphasis mine):

"The AFL-CIO has approved a record political budget of $53 million to help fund 200,000 union workers on the street. Its affiliated national and international unions have pledged another $200 million. The National Education Association will throw $40 million to $50 million at races. The Service Employees International Union has marked off $100 million for politics, and intends to pay 2,000 union members the equivalent of their salaries to work on Democratic campaigns. Add in union money for federal or state political action committees, for 527s, and for local and state races, and some astute members of the business community – those who have seen this coming “tsunami” (as one puts it) – estimate union political spending may top $1 billion in 2008."

Big Labor's political priorities include an even more pliant NLRB and passage of the misleadingly-titled "Employee Free Choice Act," a piece of legislation that would allow union bosses to bypass secret ballot elections in favor of shady "card-check" organizing drives. If Oregon is a harbinger of Big Labor's coming political ascendancy, America and particularly lovers of freedom will be facing a dark period.

 

Union Accountant's Financial Analyses for New York Legislature Were " A Step Above Voodoo . . ."

The New York Times has a devastating article up on the incestuous relationship between public sector union officials and the New York state legislature. The actual controversy is downright farcical: legislators relied on a public sector union accountant to determine the cost of proposed increases to the state's employee pension plan.

A reasonable observer might suggest that this arrangement represented a clear conflict of interest, but to New York state legislators it was just good book-keeping. According to the Times, the union actuary "reviewed" hundreds of bills for the state before being exposed by the paper's investigation. What's more, the Times reports that the actuary neglected to mention additional legislative costs of up $500 million in his original reports.

The Times' description of the actuary's "methodology" is particularly mind-boggling (emphasis mine):

" . . . in an arrangement that had not been publicly disclosed, Mr. Schwartz [the union actuary] was being paid by labor unions. He acknowledged in an interview that he skewed his work to favor the [union's interests], calling his job “a step above voodoo.”

As a result, legislative leaders said they would no longer rely on Mr. Schwartz’s work, and a disciplinary board affiliated with the American Academy of Actuaries has begun a review of Mr. Schwartz’s conduct.

The Legislature relied almost exclusively on Mr. Schwartz — a consultant to District Council 37, the umbrella group of municipal unions as well as to unions representing firefighters, teachers, detectives and correction officers — to determine the cost of pension bills involving New York City employees."

Fortunately, Empire State legislators swung into action to reasssure the Times that they were monitoring the situation all along. I'm sure New York taxpayers are greatly reassured by their representatives' scrupulous accounting procedures:

"Despite legislative leaders’ assertions that they undertake independent financial analyses of the pension bills, neither the Senate nor the Assembly could provide any records to bolster that claim."

Unfortunately, this sort of lax book-keeping is par for the course when it comes to union pension funds which are often managed for the benefit of union bosses, rather than the pensioners. The incident also highlights the dangerous potential for union political activism in the legislative sphere.

When things get too cozy, there really are no breaks on political corruption. In another instance, Schwartz analyzed a Big Labor supported bill and basically lied to the legislature -- saying it would result in no additional costs to taxpayers.

"Mr. Schwartz conceded in an interview last month that he knew the bill would actually have a significant cost, explaining, “I got a little bit carried away in my formulation.”

He added that he made his projections look “as cheap as possible” to favor his clients."

 

Union Operatives Step Up Attacks on Job Providers, Lick Chops at Possible Landslide Election

Here at Freedom@Work, we've been covering Big Labor's vicious corporate smear campaigns for quite some time. With the likelihood of pro-compulsory unionism politicians being swept into office and Big Labor's power on the rise, it looks like union organizers have redoubled their efforts to impose card-check certification drives across the country.

First, we have the case of Aramark Food Services, headquartered in Philadelphia. As mentioned earlier, Aramark has been targeted by the SEIU for refusing to cooperate with the union bosses' efforts to forcibly organize company employees. Now comes this latest update from Chicago's Daily Herald (emphasis mine):

"It's very typical of SEIU to … put pressure on the employer by … pointing out the various problems with the employer's labor relations or management practices," said Bob Bruno, a labor relations researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago...

Hade said the union is pursuing agreements that would allow suburban service workers to unionize without holding an election.

"It's a fair process," [service union spokeswoman] Hade said. "They don't face intimidation from anyone."

A fair process? Note how the article euphemistically alludes to card-check elections as "agreements that would allow suburban service workers to unionize without holding an election." That's an interesting way to characterize a process that subjects workers to coercive public pressure from both management and union organizers. Hade would do well to check out the Foundation's video on card-check harassment and intimidation.

But not surprisingly, this is happening all over the place. In Oregon, United Farm Workers operatives are pressuring Beef Northwest to organize its workers. The locale may change, but Big Labor's tactics stay the same (emphasis mine):

Now, the United Farm Workers' efforts to organize the state's largest cattle feedlot has turned ugly, as the two sides clash over one central question: whether or not the company's 80 employees even want union representation.

Union organizers say Beef Northwest workers don't get regular salary raises, affordable health insurance or respect. They want a card check process, in which workers sign union cards and a third party oversees the vote. In the card check process, at least 50 percent of workers need to agree to union representation.

Beef Northwest owners say their workers are among the highest paid in the industry and that the majority of their workers appear happy. They want the vote taken by secret ballot, in which workers vote anonymously without union involvement.

Oregon's experience foreshadows Big Labor's coming political ascendancy. Union operatives are in the process of securing the allegiance of state and local governments across the country. With a big national election coming up, Forbes has the story on union organizers' goals for the next election cycle:

Teamsters spokesman Galen Munroe says, "It's pretty much accepted that Americans want change after the Bush Administration," adding that the Employee Free Choice Act, designed to make it easier for workers to choose a union, would help strengthen the middle class. The measure didn't make it out of the Senate last year, but Obama has vowed to revive it if elected.

We're not sure what the coercive "Employee Free Choice Act" has to do with middle class prosperity given it would increase union monopoly control, but it certainly doesn't do anything for employee freedom.

Alternatives to Compulsory Unionization?

The Heritage Foundation has just put up an interesting -- if at times confusing -- new web memo on possible alternatives to compulsory unionization. One of the more salient points the author raises is that the legislation governing workplace relations - the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) - is almost entirely obsolete. Times have changed since 1935 (the year the bill was first drafted), and the workplace now emphasizes cooperation over confrontation between management and labor:


That economy no longer exists. Businesses today rely on feedback and communication from employees. Employers do not simply give top-down orders, but incorporate bottom-up communication and employee discretion. The line between workers and management has increasingly blurred, and most workers want cooperative—not adversarial—relations with their employers.

Unfortunately, Big Labor hasn't changed with the times. If anything, union officials are promoting an increasingly adversarial relationship with management that relies on hate-the-boss rhetoric, vicious corporate campaigns, coercive card-check organizing drives, and scurious lawsuits to force companies to herd their employees into forced-dues-paying union collectives.

Would a more cooperative approach benefit employees? According to the memo, alternatives to the current system is certainly popular with American workers:


The fact that few workers want to join traditional unions does not mean that they do not want a voice in workplace relations. Surveys show that workers want to participate in decisions in the workplace and want to be heard by their supervisors, but they do not want hostile relations with management.

Ultimately, the policy prescriptions put forth in the web memo are unfortunately vague on the vital isues of compulsory union dues and monopoly bargaining.

If Heritage's proposed reforms eliminate forced dues, monopoly bargaining, or both, then they would be a step forward for employee rights. However, if the "reforms" do nothing to dismantle these extraordinary monopoly union privileges and make unionism more voluntary, then it is hard to see how trying to add "employee involvement" programs to the NLRA would be anything other than a gigantic waste of time and resources.

The Denver Post: Still Clueless About Forced Unionism

As Patrick Semmens pointed out recently, Denver Post columnist Al Lewis got quite an earful for suggesting that workers are rarely dissatisfied with compulsory union representation. But at least Al has the grace to admit he was wrong. In a recent post, he acknowledged that "unions make workers pay."

His colleague Bob Ewegen, on the other hand, is an unrepentant forced unionism propagandist. In a recent column, he trots out the same tired talking points in defense of non-Right to Work states' supposed economic vitality:

If you're lucky enough to find a job at all, the only right the Coors plan gives you is the right to work for less. Quite a bit less, actually. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that an average worker in the 22 states with right-to-work laws earns about $7,131 a year less than workers in free bargaining states ($30,656 versus $37,787). Nationwide, union members earn $9,308 a year more than non-union workers, $41,652 versus $32,344.

A little fact-checking is in order. As noted in this recent post, economically-dynamic Right to Work states enjoy lower taxes, lower housing costs, cheaper goods, and better services. In fact, if you adjust workers' salaries for relative costs of living, employees clearly make more money in Right to Work areas.

Ewegen further suggests that Right to Work states are struggling economically -- rather than serving as powerhouses of job and standard of living growth.

Quoting out of context statistics is a neat -- albeit intellectually dishonest -- rhetorical trick. Most Right to Work states are concentrated in the South, a region that has historically endured lower rates of economic growth than the rest of the country. Now, however, these states boast higher rates of growth than their non-Right to Work counterparts. What's changed? As this analysis demonstrates, states that embrace Right to Work principles enjoy substantially better economic performance.

And these trends show no signs of letting up. According to one blogger, the past several years have seen Right to Work states continue to register better economic performance than their non-Right to Work neighbors.

Supreme Court Agrees with Foundation; Strikes Down a Prototype Union Organizing Law

In case you missed it, the Supreme Court just struck down (pdf) a biased California statute that prevented companies who received state grants from sharing accurate information about unions with their employees. Foundation attorneys filed an amicus curiae brief in support of overturning the Ninth Circuit's flawed reasoning.

The Foundation's press release is now available online. Money quote:

Had the Ninth Circuit’s ruling not been overturned, employees of companies accepting funds from the state would be denied truthful information regarding the downsides of unionization. Employers could have ultimately been blackballed from government contracts unless they cleared the path for union organizers to recruit new forced dues-paying union members.

The Foundation's amicus brief is also availble online (pdf). Union lawyers argued the California law was intended to ensure "neutrality" in the workplace, but the argument rang hollow, as Foundation attorneys pointed out (emphasis mine):

Assembly Bill No. 1889, Cal. Gov’t Code §§ 16645.2 and 16645.7 (“AB 1889”), is the law at issue. It is a state labor regulation that has only one purpose and effect: to halt the free flow of non-coercive information from employers to their employees, so that unions may take advantage of the enforced silence and corral uninformed employees into unionization. AB 1889’s “gag rule” directly conflicts with the core of federal labor policy, which encourages the free flow of non-coercive information precisely so that employees can make an intelligent and fully informed decision to choose or reject unionization. Employees are the real victims of this misguided state effort to undo federal labor policy.

The Foundation's amicus brief goes on to explain why state-enforced "neutrality" agreements are heavily biased in favor of union organizers (emphasis mine):

AB 1889 [the California law] enables unions to demand and receive so-called “neutrality and card check” agreements, under which employees’ right to choose or reject unionization in a free and uncoerced manner is hampered. For example, most “neutrality and card check” agreements place a gag on employer speech, so that employees are unable to learn from their employer anything that may be unfavorable to the union. Moreover, such agreements typically provide unions with employees’ home addresses and other confidential information, so that union agents can make home visits and other potentially unwanted solicitations as a means to cajole or coerce employees to sign cards. Additionally, unions are often given physical access to the workplace to further pressure employees to sign the cards. Perhaps most egregious, most neutrality agreements waive NLRB-supervised secret-ballot elections and substitute the “card check” process, in which a signed authorization card counts as a “vote” for the union. Thus, the union acts to prevent employees from voting their consciences in a traditional secret-ballot election, even though experience shows that the process of soliciting union authorization cards often relies upon coercion and misrepresentations.

The San Francisco Chronicle has a concise write-up here. This passage highlights the court's key findings:

The court rejected arguments by California and labor unions that the state is entitled to restrict the use of its own funds in the workplace. Stevens said California was trying to regulate employer speech by requiring extensive record keeping, to ensure that no state funds were spent against unions, and by requiring businesses to pay the legal fees of unions and other private parties who successfully sued them for violations.

Unfortunately, this setback means that Big Labor is now more intent than ever on passing coercive "card-check" legislation. The Chronicle's article continues:


From a union perspective, he said, the case also highlights the importance of labor-backed legislation - passed by the House, but stalled in the Senate - that would require an employer to recognize a union if a majority of employees signed affiliation cards.

While the Foundation's strategic litigation strategy continues to pay dividends, Big Labor's political clout and election year campaign plans could put our forces on the defensive more than ever come November.

News Release

Union Bosses Forced to Drop Threats against Employee Exercising Right to Resign from Union Membership

Federal court suit forces Alaska union officials to drop demands that state employee be fired

Anchorage, Alaska (June 20, 2008) – With free legal aid from the National Right to Work Foundation, an Alaska state employee has reached a favorable settlement with union officials and state administrators who threatened his termination after he asserted his right to resign from union membership. When Robert Hunsick informed officials from Alaska State Employees Association, Local 52 (ASEA) of his decision to resign from the union, union brass improperly demanded that he continue to pay full union dues or be fired.

Hunsick filed suit in United States District Court on May 19, causing ASEA lawyers to scramble to avoid a costly and embarrassing court battle with Foundation attorneys. ASEA union officials were unlawfully seizing and spending a portion of his forced dues for political and ideological purposes.

In the Foundation-won Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson (1986), the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously established due process safeguards to ensure that employees are not compelled to subsidize union activities beyond what union officials can prove is spent on collective bargaining. Hunsick resigned his formal union membership and asked ASEA officials to provide him a statement breaking down the union’s expenditures, verified by an independent auditor. Hudson also requires that union officials provide the employee who chooses to refrain from union membership an opportunity to challenge the amount of the fee.

But ASEA union boss Jim Duncan told Hunsick that he could only resign his formal union membership in a union-designated 30-day window every June. Eventually, ASEA officials accepted Hunsick’s resignation, but union officials then still failed to provide him with a proper breakdown of union dues to prove that the amount they demanded was not paying for activities unrelated to collective bargaining, such as union politics, lobbying or member-only activities.

When Hunsick insisted on such a breakdown, as guaranteed under Hudson, union officials persisted in demanding that he pay up or be fired, a demand they only dropped as part of the settlement. Under the other terms of the settlement, the ASEA agreed to refund Hunsick all fees deducted from his wages, plus interest, from his initial resignation in December and waived its claim for any such fees not paid.

Alaska is one of 28 states without Right to Work protections that ensure employees are not forced to pay any union dues as a condition of employment. Hunsick’s struggle against ASEA demonstrates the chasm between Alaska’s compulsory unionism laws and its tradition of rugged individualism.

“This settlement is a small victory for employee freedom,” said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “But as long as state laws compel workers like Robert Hunsick to support unions against their will, true freedom remains lost in the wilderness.”

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, is assisting thousands of employees in over 200 cases nationwide.

Quick Hits - June 24, 2008

A few Right to Work-related updates from around the web:

1.) The Toledo Blade has a great editorial up on one city official's attempt to strong arm private contractors into blackballing non-union workers. Money quote:


Mr. Szollosi argues that because public money was spent on the property, the principles that apply to public construction should hold sway even after the property is sold to the private sector. But the only thing that would be accomplished by restricting development on the site to union workers would be to limit Mr. Dillin's ability to negotiate the best deal he can with local trade unions, raising labor costs and potentially putting the project in jeopardy.

And if that worst-case scenario were to be realized, there would be no jobs for anyone, union or nonunion. If that's what the grandstanding Mr. Szollosi wants, he's the wrong person to represent Toledo's workers in the current economic climate.

Big Labor has a sad history of discriminating against nonunion workers and contractors, while taxpayers foot the bill.

2.) The Seattle Times posted a surprisingly thorough investigation into Washington Governor Christine Gregoire's extensive financial connections to union PACs. Excerpting the piece really doesn't do it justice, but here's a quick preview. The SEIU donated $418,000 (!) to Gregoire's 2004 campaign, and by all accounts their investment paid off handsomely:

Another big donor, the SEIU, had some major setbacks in the Legislature this year, but the union has benefited from the Democrats' efforts to increase human-services spending.

Gregoire and the Legislature raised reimbursement rates for nursing homes, money that helped SEIU win new contracts with 20 homes and add 2,000 new members. And they passed legislation that enabled the union to organize more than 10,000 child-care providers.

3.) The Communist Party of America has apparently decided to throw its considerable political heft behind the erroneously-titled "Employee Free Choice Act." From a recent op-ed by the Chair of Communist Party USA's Political Action Commission:

As AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker told the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists convention, “This election cannot be only about John McCain’s failings. It must be about working people’s vision — our vision of a new direction for our country. A vision that includes . . . the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act … [W]e are going to spark a movement of those who are ready to make their voices heard in shaping the new America we must build together — and we are going collect our debt this November.”

The Communist Party USA’s emergency program to repair, renew and rebuild America is a contribution toward this effort.

 


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