Unholy Unions
Exploiting labor.


Deroy Murdock

Labor Day, our country’s mislabeled national work stoppage, inspires union bosses to march in parades honoring America’s employees. Union members should use this occasion to learn where union chiefs spend their hard-earned dues.

Just as transparency rules now obligate corporations to pry open their books, the Bush Administration insists that unions more thoroughly disclose their expenditures.

This spending mainly comes from dues forcibly collected from rank-and-file members. The $197,033,161 that the United Auto Workers (UAW) squeezed out of its members last year, for instance, represents 64.2 percent of its $306,747,724 in revenues. The National Educations Association (NEA)’s equivalent figure is 86.4 percent. Union members make. Union pooh-bahs take.

The Center for Union Facts has analyzed the Labor Department’s “LM-2” records for fiscal year 2005 and organized them in a comprehensive, user-friendly database. It details Big Labor’s twin commitments to liberalism and luxury.

During the 2004 elections, the Center for Responsive Politics reports, unions spent at least $61,484,080 in political contributions—87 percent to Democrats, 13 percent to Republicans. That year, according to a CNN exit poll of 13,660 respondents, 61 percent of union members voted for Democrat John Kerry, while 38 percent supported Republican George W. Bush.

Labor often backs very liberal causes. The NEA contributed $1,210,000 to progressive groups including the Fund to Protect Social Security ($250,000), People for the American Way ($51,000), and the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network ($5,000). Gay, straight, or betwixt, it would not be immediately evident to anyone how any of this helps instructors teach kids to read and write.

If this money seems Mickey Mouse, just wait.

Seventeen unions spent $1,322,378 at various Disney resorts. The NEA paid $62,036 for events at several Disney properties. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) shelled out $100,999 for its Disneyland convention. And the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) dropped $125,467 on conferences at Disneyland and Disneyworld.

Even beyond Disney’s reach, union honchos seem to inhabit a permanent Magic Kingdom. For them, the good life includes their salaries, the seas, and the skies.

One hundred top union executives made at least $280,000 annually, not counting benefits. And among them, 93 percent are male. NEA president Reg Weaver made $438,920, plus benefits. At his headquarters, 335 officers and employees scored $100,000 or more, averaging $140,977, before benefits. The typical teacher makes $47,808, NEA calculates. “You are better off representing teachers than being one,” one labor analyst laments.

Unions floated $109,286 on yachts. The NEA spent $11,797 in November 2004 to charter a yacht from a Hollywood, Florida company. The Carpenters and Joiners Association Council paid the Montauk Yacht Club $27,099, while the International Association of Machinists (IAM) gave World Yacht $70,390 for a national conference.

Common workers ride in cramped airline cabins. The union bosses’ slogan seems to be: “Let them fly coach.”

While the UAW spent $5,386 for luggage tags and $55,168 on briefcases, even more fun ensued once captains of labor became airborne.

The Teamsters spent $24,958 for Cincinnati-based Executive Jet Management.

“Your Wish is Our Command,” the jet-charter company’s website purrs. “Your private jet charter trip will be comfortable and relaxing as Executive Jet Management guarantees that you have access to every service and amenity.” This can feature “ground transportation, including limos,” “in-flight catering, from wine and cheese to gourmet meals,” and “making special occasions even more special with flower arrangements, birthday cakes, and more.”

Meanwhile, the IAM appropriated $256,749 to lease, insure, and maintain a Lear Jet.

Labor czars love plowing their members’ money into gambling dens. Searching for “casino” reveals $1,933,534 in expenditures for events and parties at the Aladdin, Foxwoods, MGM Grand, and other hotel-casinos. The Teamsters left at least $312,318 at various betting parlors, including $287,929 at Bally’s Las Vegas and $10,760 at the Reno Hilton’s Aspen Lounge Cabaret which, one vacation website says, is “not to be missed.”

Last February 28–March 2, the AFL-CIO’s 54-member executive council gathered at San Diego’s Hotel Del Coronado, a beautiful, Victorian, sun-splashed National Historic Landmark. Its limited-view rooms start at $415 nightly, exclusive of food, bar, and spa charges. But the Del Coronado is not Carpenters Local 1506’s favorite place. In a handbill featuring a rat devouring the U.S. flag, the union denounced the resort “for Desecration of the American Way of Life” for hiring a non-union contractor. So, AFL-CIO leaders shrugged. They crossed the Carpenters’ picket line and enjoyed their beachside retreat.

Separately, as if they were erasing their fingerprints, the Teamsters spent $5,618 on “political activities shredding” and $9,442 on “union administrative” shredding.

While these union filings are revealing, they could be even more so.

“One thing the Labor Department must do to provide employees real, meaningful information about their unions’ expenditures is to separate union-organizing expenses from collective-bargaining costs,” says National Right to Work Foundation vice president Stefan Gleason. These two types of spending currently are agglomerated in Labor’s LM-2s. “Workers ought to know whether the Teamsters’ Bally’s Las Vegas bill involved political activity, entertainment, or actual collective bargaining.”

“The Labor Department also should reduce the expenditure reporting threshold from $5,000 and above, to $200 or more,” Gleason adds. That figure would match the level beyond which political committees and candidates must disclose all outlays to the Federal Election Commission. “You can make a lot of get-out-the-vote phone calls for $4,999.” Anything below that amount now remains a union secret.

This is a matter of social justice.

If workers volunteered their money to underwrite this extravagance, then it would be a smaller issue. But mandatory dues are extracted from employees who must join unions as a work requirement. Using dues to improve wages, benefits, and safety is one thing. Shaking down employees so union leaders can live like royalty recalls the material conditions that made Karl Marx’s blood boil.

As union members savor the late-summer sun this Labor Day, they should ask themselves if their well-merited dollars don’t belong in their own pockets, rather than in those of America’s insatiable union bosses.

New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Virginia.