Politics & Policy

A Union Run Amok

Protests against right-to-work legislation in December, 2012.
John Clark, security guard, is fighting back against corrupt union leaders.

John Clark knew right from his job interview with AlliedBarton Security Services that there were problems at the Dearborn Ford plant. “This one supervisor, she felt like the site was out of control,” the 53-year-old Detroit native explains. Clark says he was told that, as a former correctional officer, he was chosen to set an example of professionalism, so he accepted the job despite the issues.

When he arrived at work in August 2011, the superviser who had interviewed him was no longer there, but “I saw exactly what she was talking about the first week I was there,” Clark tells me. “The union rank and file just run amok, do whatever they want to do.”

Now, two years later, Clark and two other AlliedBarton employees have filed charges against their employer and United Protective Workers of America Local 1 with the National Labor Relations Board.

#ad#They allege that the union failed to represent workers’ interests and penalized workers who opposed its leadership.

Furthermore, when Michigan’s right-to-work law was passed last December, the union sought to hang onto its members, even against their will. In January 2013, just three months before the law was to go into effect, it negotiated a contract that forced employees to continue paying dues until June 2015. The 46 members of UPWA Local 1 are required to pay a $600 initiation fee, as well as $420 in dues each year.

Clark says the new agreement between AlliedBarton and UPWA was “the craziest contract I’d ever seen or heard of,” and he claims union leadership refused to tell the workers what was being discussed. He says the contract allowed AlliedBarton to drop workers’ health insurance and maintained a wage spread of more than $7 an hour between the so-called Level 1 workers and Level 2s, who have more authority and receive better pay. About one-third of the Level 2s are union leaders.

John Raudabaugh, a staff attorney with the National Right to Work Foundation, is representing Clark. He says the union failed to inform employees of their rights to opt out of membership and pay reduced dues so that their money wouldn’t go to the union’s political activities.

Furthermore, Raudabaugh says, “the rush to work out this union security agreement and to enforce it was to circumvent what everyone knew was coming, which was the Michigan right-to-work law. What [the union leaders] did was race to take advantage of the old way, all at the expense of employees, who are taxpayers and who are fellow citizens.”

J. Justin Wilson, the managing director at the Center for Union Facts, says Clark isn’t alone: Across Michigan, unions have negotiated contracts before right-to-work’s implementation, locking workers into paying dues for years.

“While they can cling to their current members or their newly found members, it’s stories like this that make people not want to join unions,” Wilson says.

Calls and messages to union leadership went unanswered at the two phone numbers listed on the Department of Labor filings for UPWA Local 1. The union’s attorney has not returned National Review Online’s phone call. The union’s formal response to the NLRB says that many of the allegations are untrue.

AlliedBarton would not answer NRO’s specific questions, saying it could not comment on a pending investigation. The company spokesperson sent a written response to NRO’s query, calling the case “primarily a dispute between the UPWA and its membership.” It added that “to the extent there have been any allegations of direct wrongdoing by AlliedBarton, those allegations have been investigated and resolved in AlliedBarton’s favor.”

Clark tells me fact he’s in fact “very much pro-union” but that he became disheartened by what he saw at the Ford plant. “I think if these particular officers in the union weren’t in power, the company would be a better place,” he says. “It’s a great job. It’s just that the union messes everything up. This is strictly about the union, not the company.”

Clark says he noticed early on that the union leaders were slacking on the job and taking perks they weren’t entitled to. According to Clark, the union president, for example, would use the company car, which was supposed to be only for work, to drive around family members and do errands.

And Clark, who is diabetic, says he couldn’t even get the union rep to relieve him from his post on time so that he could take the insulin shots he needed on his break. But “if you go to management about it, the superviser asks why you’re going to tell on people.”

Clark says when he decided to drop out of the union, its leaders set out to make his life miserable.

The union president threatened to get him fired, Clark tells me: “He was fearful that others were going to follow my lead.” Clark says he was denied training and promotion, and that employees less senior than he got better opportunities. He says he requested transfer to another site where AlliedBarton provided security but where the workers were represented by a different local, but he was denied the move, probably because of his conflict with UPWA Local 1.

“The whole thing was just rigged,” Clark says. “It was whatever the unions wanted, and management supported that.”

The National Labor Relations Board will hear the case on September 30 in Detroit.

— Jillian Kay Melchior is a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.


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