Todays word on the state of our state, our nation, and the world.
The AFL-CIO spent more than $30 million on politics during the past year, using money from workers to support political causes across the country.
The labor union reported “political activities” totaling $28 million for its 2014 fiscal year, which ended on June 30. Another $4.8 million in AFL-CIO payments to political nonprofits was reported to the U.S. Department of Labor as “contributions, gifts and grants” or “representational activities.”
The AFL-CIO’s primary revenue stream is the per-capita tax member unions pay with money taken from workers. Private-sector workers in 26 states and public-sector workers in 23 states can be forced to pay union “agency fees” as a condition of employment.
Although federal law restricts what unions can use mandatory fees for, the AFL-CIO and its affiliates fund many liberal political groups. Agency fee payers can ask to have the “nonchargeable” portion of their fees refunded and may dispute the “chargeable” amount, but both processes are time-consuming and must be repeated annually.
Expenditures AFL-CIO reported as political from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014, include $3,923,950 to AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education PAC, $617,550 to liberal data firm Catalist, and $559,975 to liberal organizing firm NGP VAN.
Progressive activist groups received considerable support from AFL-CIO during the past year: $200,000 to Sixteen Thirty Fund, $198,951 to We Are Wisconsin, $130,000 to American Family Voices and $110,750 to Democracy Alliance, a clearinghouse for contributions to liberal nonprofits.
Economic Policy Institute, a think tank, received $50,000 from AFL-CIO, while Americans United for Change received $45,000, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center received $30,000 and Center for American Progress Action Fund received $25,000.
AFL-CIO gave MSNBC host Al Sharpton’s National Action Network $50,000, gave ProgressNow $30,000, and gave Progressive Congress Action Fund $12,000. AFL-CIO also paid the Center for Media and Democracy, best known for the websites PR Watch and ALEC Exposed, $20,730.
2010 photo of Joe Biden embracing Richard Trumka. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT, photo via Newscom)
AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., used money taken from workers to pay its officers and employees an average of $89,328 during fiscal year 2014.
Including every individual for whom AFL-CIO who reported a gross salary to the U.S. Department of Labor — from president Richard Trumka on down — the union coalition spent more than $35 million on compensation for three officers and 391 employees.
In 26 states and the District of Columbia, private-sector workers can be forced to pay AFL-CIO affiliates as a condition of employment. Public-sector workers can be forced to pay union fees in D.C. and 23 states, although thousands of Wisconsin and Michigan workers have exercised their privilege to opt out as a result of recent reforms.
Millions in tax dollars make their way to AFL-CIO each year, as the union coalition’s largest affiliates are American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and American Federation of Teachers.
This explains AFL-CIO support for bigger government, but AFL-CIO headquarters pay stands in contrast to the organization’s politics.
AFL-CIO backed the fringe-left Occupy Wall Street movement launched in late 2011, and it continues to embrace the group’s “99 percent” rhetoric. Solidarity with low-income workers is a major theme of AFL-CIO efforts to increase union membership, grow government and hike corporate taxes.
People’s World, a publication of Communist Party USA, reported that at an April 15 press conference unveiling the 2014 edition of AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch report, Trumka said the pay of top CEOs keeps increasing “because the system is rigged.”
“They’re cannibalizing their customer base,” Trumka added. Using money paid to AFL-CIO by its dues-funded union affiliates, Trumka was paid a total of $322,131 during AFL-CIO’s 2014 fiscal year ending June 30.
/* Style Definitions */
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
font-family:”Times New Roman”;
The case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA) has garnered considerable public attention because the essential rights of public employees are at stake. The case, which will likely reach the Supreme Court by 2015, once again questions the use of the money paid to teachers unions in both fees and dues and how unions spend that funding on political activity. Rebecca Friedrichs, an elementary school teacher, along with nine other teachers, sued the CTA, an affiliate branch of the National Education Association (NEA). The plaintiffs asserted that the CTA charged unreasonable costs on both union and non-union teachers in every public school in the state for political activities that they do not necessarily endorse and that do not represent their beliefs.
Even a quick glance at union statistics reveals that they spend a significant portion of the money collected on promoting the agenda of union leadership. In 2013, expenses of the NEA classified as “political activities” exceeded that of “representational activities” by $500,000 and constituted almost half of the total costs for the year. This is not an anomaly, since the biggest teachers union spends three times more on politics, overhead, and administrative costs than representational activities.
“They use their money to elect union-friendly school board-members, who then reward the union. The person paying the bill, the taxpayer, doesn’t get invited to the party,” said Friedrichs.
In her lawsuit, she argues that unionism has taken on a compulsory element and is pushing the protected individual rights of the First Amendment. Specifically, she feels her freedom of association has been threatened-teachers are automatically charged the costs of the political activities unless they choose to “opt out” of these programs voluntarily.
So how do you “opt out”? Each year, unions send non-members an “opt-out” form by which they can apply for a partial rebate of usually $300 to $400 on their regular dues of about $1,000 that they must submit within six weeks. The CTA, however, determines what they consider “political activities.” According to this reasoning, the plaintiffs argue that the “opt-out” arrangement does not guarantee full protection under the First Amendment.
“There is an undercurrent of fear and most people are too afraid to opt out. Most teachers want to go to class and do their job. They’re totally apolitical,” said Friedrichs.
If the case does end up at the Supreme Court, there is some precedent that the Court could could rule in Friedrichs’ favor. The Supreme Court decided in June, in Harris v. Quinn, that home healthcare workers could not be compelled to pay the union. Though public sector agency fees are still constitutional, the Supreme Court has shown distaste toward their application in states.
Since a less coercive system of funding often causes union memberships to suffer, the CTA’s survival is less certain if it were to lose this constitutional battle. But their loss would advance liberty for individual workers since Americans will regain their right to choose who they associate with. In a Gallup survey conducted this year, over 82% of Americans agreed that “no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will.” What is even more revealing y is that 64% of the Americans disagree that workers should “have to join and pay dues to give the union financial support” because “all workers share the gains won by the labor union.” Both the majority of the Republicans and Democrats surveyed “would vote for” right-to-work laws that would break the union trust on an individual’s terms of employment.
The argument by plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. CTA is a reflection of a long-term trend by which unions shrink due to employees and the public disapproval. As Americans become more and more disillusioned by unions, we might see a decline of union control on American workers.
The case is currently in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the stakes will be high if and when it reaches the Supreme Court.
Many of the employees represented by SEIU work in the private sector. (Photo: SEIU/Creative Commons)
Public-sector unions took forced dues from more than 250,000 public employees in 2013, siphoning away taxpayer money to support the unions’ shared goal of bigger government.
Some, but not all, of the labor unions that take mandatory “agency fees” from public employees must report the number of agency fee payers to the U.S. Department of Labor each year.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees had 130,920 agency fee payers in 2013 while National Education Association had 88,378. Service Employees International Union reported 243,799 agency fee payers. Many of the employees represented by SEIU work in the private sector.
The Department of Labor defines agency fee payers as “those who make payments in lieu of dues to the reporting labor organization as a condition of employment under a union security provision in a collective bargaining agreement.” Public-sector unions can impose agency fees in 23 states.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7.2 million of the country’s 20.4 million public-sector workers were members of unions in 2013. Another 690,000 government employees were represented by unions but weren’t union members.
“Unions were first developed years ago to protect workers. But too often, in today’s world, they exist solely for one thing and one thing only—raw, crass political power,” said Brett Healy, president of the Wisconsin-based MacIver Institute. “Big Labor bosses are more worried about supplying politicians with donations than the wellbeing of the rank-and-file or what is best for the rest of us—the taxpayers.
“Government workers understand this and that is why so many refuse to pay for the political spending of unions,” Healy continued. “By becoming an agency fee payer, the money forcibly removed from a public employee’s paycheck cannot go toward political candidates or causes.”
Determining the total number of agency fee payers nationwide is difficult because certain public-sector unions—including those with less than $250,000 in revenue—are exempt from many Department of Labor reporting requirements.
In addition, American Federation of Teachers and other large unions representing government workers do not report a total number of agency fee payers because of the way workers’ money flows to each union’s headquarters through state and local chapters.
Excluding the New York State United Teachers, an affiliate of both NEA and AFT with 23,622 agency fee payers, AFT locals took mandatory fees from at least 38,644 workers in at least 12 states.
“Why should one be forced to hand over their hard-earned money to a political organization they may not agree with? We live in the land of the free not the land of forced association,” Healy said.
Photo: Steve Rhodes/Creative Commons
MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee County Supervisor David Bowen calls it a compromise, but he’s still getting his “political retribution” while hitting taxpayer resources three times as hard.
Bowen, who wrote the county’s “living wage” ordinance with Service Employees International Union-affiliated officials and has received numerous campaign contributions from SEIU agencies, is moving forward with a request for an audit of the county-contracted Supportive Homecare Options Inc.
The company’s owner, Sally Sprenger, has been a vocal critic of Bowen’s living wage law and refuses to cave in to SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin’s demand that her entire staff join the union.
In a move that helps hide his political motivation and gain more support, Bowen is now asking for audits of the two other firms contracted with the Milwaukee County Department of Family Care — tripling the taxpayer resources needed for SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin’s ultimate goal of inspecting Supportive Homecare Options’ books.
“This is a friendly compromise to ensure that we are looking at the full picture,” Bowen said at Wednesday’s Health and Human Needs Committee meeting.
Bowen’s substitute resolution calling for the audits will be considered Thursday by the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.
The resolution authorizes the county’s Audit Services Division to perform audits on the three companies contracted with Family Care — Supportive Homecare Options, New Health Services and Temps Plus — to determine how the firms use their money.
SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin President Dian Palmer and some SEIU representatives asked for the audit of Supportive Homecare Options at a meeting of the Health and Human Needs Committee in July. They were concerned about Sprenger using administrative fees to pay for an attorney to represent her in collective bargaining negotiations with the union and whether she provided “fair wages” to her employees.
But Family Care Director Maria Ledger has said county staff reviewed the three firms’ payroll records in April and found no issues. It also looks at cumulative service expenditures four times a year.
Supervisor Deanna Alexander on Wednesday called the audit request a wasteful and unethical action in the guise of accountability. She says she’s seen no evidence Bowen’s proposal isn’t fueled by “a baseless desire to make a strategic move aimed at political retribution.”
Taxpayers are on the hook for a government food inspector who missed rats in flour. (Photo: Getty Images)
A food inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture who was suspended for failing to discover that rats had infested a pasta-making plant has won a fight to overturn his punishment and get back pay.
Now, a federal labor board has directed an arbitrator to consider whether taxpayers also should reimburse the $67,589-a-year federal worker for legal costs–which his union already covered–even though the food inspector didn’t notice rat feces in a storage room where a bag of flour was ripped open.
Critics of government inefficiency call the sequence of events a cautionary tale about the difficulty of punishing, much less firing, federal employees for poor work — even when it endangers public health.
This story begins in February 2010, when Irvin Boesen, a 25-year consumer food inspector with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, inspected Vince and Sons Pasta Co. in Bridgeview, Ill.
Anyone with Boesen’s job title is responsible for inspecting “designated premises where food products are produced or otherwise handled to ensure the integrity and safety of the manufactured” product, papers filed with the Federal Labor Relations Authority show.
This is what happened, according to findings in the case:
Boesen inspected the Illinois pasta plant over three days before a relief consumer food inspector took over. The second inspector noticed a rat infestation.
USDA management found rodent feces throughout the plant, including a room for dry storage that held bags of flour. One bag was torn open.
USDA officials shuttered the pasta plant for more than a week because of the rat infestation, which they described as “extensive” and “widespread.” The presence of the rats, they said, also allowed a “serious health and safety issue to develop.”
Management suspended Boesen for five days for failing to note the infestation in his inspection.
“The resulting five-day suspension is on the lenient side of progressive discipline and took into account [Boesen’s] long and satisfactory service,” the USDA argued in filings with the Federal Labor Relations Authority.
The food inspector’s union, the American Federation of Government Employees, disagreed.
AFGE, the largest union of federal workers, represents more than 650,000 employees. It provided Boesen’s legal counsel.
The union argued the rat infestation easily could have occurred in the span of two days — when the relief inspector took over — and said the USDA “failed to apply progressive discipline.”
USDA management’s five-day suspension of Boesen “is unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious, punitive and an abuse of discretion,” union lawyer Allison Ziegler argued.
Taking the Inspector’s Side
To settle their differences, the agency and the union agreed to hire an outside arbitrator–as provided by the union contract–to consider Boesen’s grievance and rule on it.
The Federal Labor Relations Authority, an independent entity tasked with overseeing labor statutes, stipulates that collective bargaining agreements must include procedures for arbitration of unsettled grievances.
The arbitrator, Robert Steinberg, found that Boesen was distracted because he was mourning the death of his mother-in-law. Steinberg criticized the USDA for imposing such punishment on a “25-year professional with a virtually unblemished work record” without seeking an explanation for his negligence.
Steinberg also found that Boesen did not act “willfully or in reckless disregard of his duty and the public safety.”
As a result, the food inspector’s suspension was overturned and he got a written reprimand instead.
The arbitrator also said Boesen was entitled to five days’ back pay and credit for lost benefits. He received that compensation in 2012.
According to a database of government salaries kept by the Asbury Park Press, Boesen made $67,589 in 2010. The average salary for a consumer food inspector last year was $56,892.
“This union valued the job security of its members more than it valued protecting public health,” James Sherk, a labor economist at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal. “Federal collective bargaining gave [the union] the power to turn its preference into public policy.”
The Daily Signal has received no response to a request for comment from the union local where Boesen is a member.
Union Asks for More
Now, two years after Boesen was awarded back pay and lost benefits, the Federal Labor Relations Authority is exploring whether the USDA should pay his lawyer’s fees and related expenses.
Steinberg originally decided the federal agency would not have to do that.
In a decision posted Sept. 30, two of the three presidential appointees who make up the labor authority–Carol Waller Pope and Ernest DuBester–asked Steinberg to submit in writing his reasons for denying the union’s original request that USDA pay its lawyer fees and expenses.
Sherk said Steinberg could deny the union again while providing the explanation sought. If that occurred, he said, it’s likely the union would appeal.
Historically, two members of the labor authority are of the same political party as the president. The third is of the opposing party.
Republican member Patrick Pizzella wrote a dissent to the Sept. 30 decision citing his concerns with the outcome.
“The facts of this case are probably better suited to a reality TV show produced by the Food Network in conjunction with Animal Planet than they are for a decision of the Federal Labor Relations Authority,” Pizzella wrote.
The mission of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is to “ensure that the ‘nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products … is safe [and] wholesome,’” Pizzella wrote, adding:
What is significant is the unavoidable conclusion that the grievant’s failure to properly inspect the pasta production facility — the very reason the agency exists and the specific purpose for which the grievant is employed — created the potential for a serious health crisis and idled an entire plant for over a week.
>>> Commentary: Sorry, Unions: Franchises Are Real Small Businesses, Too
Pizzella cited the only people he said benefited from the “outrageous tale” –the food inspector, the union lawyers, the arbitrator and the rats that “set up shop in the pasta plant as a consequence of the grievant’s negligent inspection that failed to discover their presence in the first place.”
Sherk, the labor economist at Heritage, drew another conclusion from the rats-in-the-flour case.
“This demonstrates why unions do not belong in government,” he said. “Government unions put the interests of the government employees ahead of the public good.”
‘Unfair to Taxpayers’
Sherk also underlined the difference in disciplinary action for employees who are unionized and those who are not.
At a private company that isn’t unionized, he said, it isn’t likely that an employee suspended for neglecting a rat infestation would have that discipline overturned. For companies with unionized employees, though, punishing workers for poor performance is difficult, he said.
In 2010, for example, 13 Chrysler workers were punished for smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol during their work day at a Michigan plant.
However, after the employees went through arbitration backed by their union, United Auto Workers, their punishments were overturned. They returned to work in 2012.
During a July hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Sherk said it takes “heroic” efforts to remove a federal employee from his or her position.
Committee members agreed. In a report focused on the targeting scandal at the Internal Revenue Service, congressional investigators noted the lengthy process for firing federal employees.
“The current personnel practices are unfair to American taxpayers and do little to deter misconduct by federal employees,” the report states.