The National Labor Relations Board has provided unions with a variety of favorable rulings during the Obama years, but perhaps none as dramatic as one last Thursday. On August 27, the NLRB, in a 3-2 vote, concluded that Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI) of California Inc. qualifies as a “joint employer” alongside another firm, Leadpoint Business Services, with which it had contracted to handle labor operations at a Bay Area recycling plant. As such, both companies must negotiate with a Teamsters affiliate should the results of a representation vote last spring reveal a union victory. The ruling could force many large employers to the bargaining table over labor issues which they have little or no direct control, while sharply raising business costs for contractors, franchisees and temp agencies. And it isn’t just the Teamsters who are rejoicing.
On August 10, Nathan McCallister, former secretary-treasurer of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Division 101, was sentenced in the Circuit Court of Summers County, West Virginia to two years of probation for embezzling funds from the Hinton, W.Va. union. He also was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $1,409. McCallister had pleaded guilty in June after being charged in March. The actions follow a probe by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.
On July 28, Helen Genal, former financial secretary-treasurer of the United Auto Workers’ Fox Valley Area Community Action Program, was charged in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin with one count of embezzling $29,968 in funds from the Oshkosh-based labor organization and one count of making a materially false statement. The charges follow an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.
On July 27, Tiffany Randle, former secretary-treasurer of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 652, was charged in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan with forging checks from a union bank account, of an unspecified sum, for her personal use. Less than three weeks later, on August 14, she pleaded guilty. The union is based in Kalamazoo. The charge follows a probe by the Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards and Office of Inspector General.
Justice in labor corruption cases can work very speedily. Maxine Davis and Shirley Johns found out the hard way. On July 27, Davis, former president of National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) Local 1953, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana to making false statements in union financial records immediately after being charged. Three days later, on July 30, she was sentenced to a year of unsupervised probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. She already had paid $4,875 in restitution. Davis was in good company. On July 14, Shirley Johns, former secretary-treasurer of NFFE Local 1953, was charged in the same court with making false statements. On July 17, she pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to a year of unsupervised probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. Johns already had paid $7,190 in restitution.
By now it is settled judicial opinion: A private-sector union can’t force nonunion employees under contract to pay dues for purposes beyond those related to collective bargaining. The Supreme Court cogently expressed this view in its landmark 1988 ruling, Communications Workers of America v. Beck. Yet it is almost as if the decision never happened. A new law journal article by prominent Right to Work attorney Raymond LaJeunesse, Jr. explains why. He points a finger not only at the unions, who at least act out of recognizable self-interest, but more importantly, at the ostensibly nonpartisan National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB, he argues, using a variety of tactics, over the years has acted more as a de facto advocate for unionism than as a guardian of the public trust. And the situation has gotten worse under President Obama.
There wasn’t much question about whether Carolyn Hall had taken union funds. At least it could be said that she was able and willing to return them. On August 7, Hall, formerly bookkeeper for Laborers International Union of North America Local 1197, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois to one count of embezzling $26,491 in funds from the McLeansboro (Hamilton County), Ill.-based union. She had been charged this past April following an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards. Court records show that she already has made full restitution.
Some would call it punting. Others would call it common sense. Both summations might apply. On Monday, August 17, the National Labor Relations Board unanimously ruled that scholarship football players at Northwestern University cannot form a union. In overturning a March 2014 regional NLRB decision, the board concluded that allowing union organizing at one campus, but not at others, would be disruptive. The ruling read: “Our decision is primarily premised on a finding that because of the nature of sports leagues…it would not promote stability in labor relations to assert jurisdiction in this case.” While the decision is a rebuke to the players’ request, its scope is narrow. By declining to rule on whether student-athletes qualify as “employees,” the board has kept the door open for similar cases.
On June 25, William Magee, former president of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers Local 252G, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee to three years of probation, with six months home detention, for embezzling funds from the Memphis union. He also was ordered to pay $71,908 in restitution and a $100 assessment. Magee had pleaded guilty in February following an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.
On July 1, Alfonso Rodriguez, former secretary-treasurer for United Transportation Union Local 117, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington to three years of probation and 160 hours of community service for false financial reporting. He also was ordered to make restitution in the amount of $34,601 to the Southworth (Kitsap County), Wash.-based union. Rodriguez had pleaded guilty in March following an investigation by the Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.