Amid Labor Day’s parades and picnics, union bosses will bellow Monday about workers’ rights and the alleged greed of management, especially inside Big Business. Such class-warfare sloganeering would be easier to stomach if Big Labor were internally consistent. Instead, when their own workers channel Norma Rae and demand better wages and benefits, labor leaders imitate union-busting robber barons.
“I was fired for trying to start a union at the UFT,” said a stunned Jim Callaghan. For 13 years, Callaghan penned speeches and newsletters for Gotham’s United Federation of Teachers. He told the New York Post that when managers sacked one of his colleagues without cause, he decided to organize the twelve non-union scribes who write for the powerful teachers’ union. “We have no protections and no disciplinary process,” Callaghan lamented.
His employers were not amused. About two months after Callaghan announced his plans, he was jettisoned on August 12 and given 30 minutes to clear his desk. When he lingered, union bosses got six uniformed police officers to eject him.
The UFT claims that Callaghan had disciplinary problems. Even if true, compare Callaghan’s instant dismissal to the years it can take to fire failed teachers. Even those accused of groping children have become virtually permanent fixtures in union-protected “rubber rooms,” where they receive salaries, read newspapers, and even run businesses while their cases inch through administrative hoops.
Union bosses, such as Philadelphia’s Henry Nicholas, hope that their Democratic allies in Washington enact so-called “card-check” legislation. It would force an employer to recognize a union once a majority of its workers sign cards requesting unionization. This would obviate secret-ballot elections to determine such matters.
How odd, then, that Nicholas refused to recognize the bargaining unit encompassing 20 of his own staffers at District 1199C of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), despite signed cards from “all the employees,” as their organizer, John Hundzynski, explained to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Instead, the National Labor Relations Board last April conducted an election to settle this question — precisely what AFSCME would deny other employers. (The union within the union evidently was approved, 17 to 2.)
International Brotherhood of Teamsters president James P. Hoffa resembles a stingy CEO in a July 2009 letter to his local officers. “All unionized workers at the IBT’s Headquarters are a valuable part of our team,” Hoffa and secretary-treasurer C. Thomas Keegel wrote. “However, their union at the bargaining table refuses to acknowledge the current economic conditions and their impact on per capita revenues at the IBT. . . . We are now asking that workers share in the prudent belt-tightening.” Hoffa and Keegel add that they will not “commit to a collective bargaining agreement that jeopardizes the financial health of your International Union.” They conclude: “Though it pains us to do so, we must make contingency plans to operate in the event of a labor dispute.”
So, an organization’s president and treasurer decry falling revenues, urge belt-tightening, and operate during a strike. Isn’t this why Big Labor got started?
“We’ve got to downsize,” a United Auto Workers source said last December. As its membership shrank from some 500,000 in 2008 to 431,000 in 2009, the car-industry union fired 120 of its own staffers “to balance its budget,” the Detroit News noted. More amazing, after UAW personnel rejected their management’s austere contract proposal, union bosses imposed it on remaining staffers anyway. “Go ahead. Take our pay,” seemed to be management’s high-handed message to their minions. Although they voted down this contract, the UAW’s workforce suffered reduced retiree benefits and, for each laborer, the choice of either a two-week unpaid furlough or no matching 401(k) contribution for 2010.
Members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 791 must have been equally startled when some 40 percent of the Massachusetts union’s business agents were sacked without warning in February 2007. “We are sure that the membership, as well as us, never thought that a ‘labor organization’ would treat its own members (or staff employees) like this,” fired personnel wrote on their own website. “Apparently, the quote ‘an injustice to one is an injustice to all’ doesn’t apply to ‘all’ of us.”
“Justice for all, not justice for some,” several dozen members of the Service Employees International Union chanted last March as they picketed their own union’s headquarters. The union axed some 75 internal employees. “We’re in the middle of realignment,” SEIU spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette told the Associated Press. Malcolm Harris was unimpressed. The president of the Union of Union Representatives, which bargains for 210 SEIU organizers and staffers nationwide, said, “This union is supposed to be at the forefront of the progressive movement, but it can’t seem to follow its own ideology.”
SEIU dissidents have complained that the mega-union has fired those who have tried to organize separately as the National Union of Healthcare Workers. When a majority of Kaiser’s 50,000 workers in California petitioned to switch to the NUHW, union activist Lisa Tomasian reports, SEIU asked the National Labor Relations Board to delay the vote. Imagine if a private company did that.
Private companies often complain that union labor is too expensive. The Teamsters agree. When they constructed their 16,246-square-foot union hall in Houston, they didn’t use union workers because they were too costly. “There are serious solidarity issues here,” Richard Shaw of the Harris County AFL-CIO moaned to the Houston Chronicle.
Unfortunately for the AFL-CIO, it practices hypocrisy within hypocrisy. When it refurbished its Washington headquarters, it employed non-union electricians and construction workers. One insider observed that “it did save us some money.”
Not even Big Labor’s most basic activity — picketing — escapes union hypocrisy. Mirroring an M. C. Escher engraving, some unions hire non-union members to protest employers for not hiring union members.
The Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters, for instance, has paid the minimum wage to non-union protesters to slam Washington, D.C.’s McPherson Building for renovating with non-union carpenters. How do these “activists for rent” regard this cause?
“I could care less,” unemployed bike courier Billy Raye said in the July 16 Wall Street Journal. “I am being paid to march around and sound off.”
As the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s labor-policy counsel, F. Vincent Vernuccio, observed, these de facto labor workers lack health coverage, prevailing wages, and union representation — the precise benefits that unions expect of everyone but themselves.
“Union bosses have made very clear over the years that no amount of hypocrisy is too much to impede their pursuit of more workers paying more dues,” says Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee. “Time and time again, we’ve seen union officials cut back-room deals with companies to limit wages and surrender benefits, just to keep the forced-dues gravy train rolling.”
This Labor Day, union bosses should skip the hypocritical speeches and go nap on the beach.
— Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.