The United Auto Workers is a union that likes a good fight. But even its leaders recognize a lost cause - for now. This morning the union withdrew its appeal to the National Labor Relations Board challenging a secret ballot election held in mid-February that would have enabled it to represent workers at the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga. Despite having committed VW management to silence via neutrality agreement, the UAW lost by 712 to 626. The union immediately claimed the results were invalid as a result of undue interference by anti-union Tennessee public officials. On February 21, the UAW filed a request with the NLRB to overturn the vote. Yet today it dropped its suit.
On March 20, Robert Davis, former secretary-treasurer of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) Division 644, a Teamsters affiliate, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois to embezzling funds in the amount of $27,712 from the Galesburg-based union. He had been charged in July. The actions follow an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
On March 20, Rena Opre, former secretary-treasurer for Workers United Local 323, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, was charged in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in an information count of failing to disclose a material fact in a financial report filed in 2010 with the Department of Labor. No sum of funds was specified. Opre, 58, is a resident of Toledo; the local is based in Chicago. The charge follows an investigation by the Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
On March 26, Dianna Woodall pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to one count of bank theft, and one count of aiding and abetting, for her role in cashing a $9,836 counterfeit check drawn on the account of Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (MEBA) District 1, located in Washington, D.C., along with the union's national headquarters. Woodall had been charged on March 13. Earlier, on March 6, Kenneth Marshall Jr. pleaded guilty in the same court to cashing two counterfeit checks totaling $18,851 drawn on the MEBA District 1 bank account. A union spokesman had indicated that Marshall, not a union member, engaged in identity theft. The prosecutions follow a joint probe by the FBI and the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards and Office of Inspector General.
Is paying someone an annual salary, as opposed to an hourly wage, a form of exploitation even if the work is identical? President Obama thinks it can be. On March 13, Obama issued an Executive Order directing the Department of Labor to draft a regulation to expand the eligibility of salaried workers on federal contracts to receive overtime pay. The threshold would rise from the current $455 a week to an estimated $970 a week; employees making less effectively would be converted to hourly status and paid at an overtime rate for work done beyond 40 hours in a given week. The president insists the issue is fairness. "Overtime is a pretty simple idea," he said at the White House ceremony. "If you have to work more, you should get paid more." Yet the issue isn't so simple.
When it comes to union violence, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 17, based near Buffalo, N.Y., has to rank as among its most obnoxious practitioners. The evidence of crime proved convincing enough for a federal jury last month to convict former local president and business manager Mark Kirsch on various racketeering-related charges. Yet the same jury in the six-week trial also acquitted four other defendants. Prosecutors alleged that all five union members were involved in repeated acts of vandalism of nonunion construction sites and terror against nonunion contractors and workers. The case had sprung open in 2008 with the indictment of a dozen persons, several of whom eventually pled guilty. While union leaders and their lawyers are cheering the outcome, it is highly unlikely the local can resume its mobster style of enforcement.
John Brennan embezzled union funds to enhance his life. The stress of having been found out very likely contributed to his death. On March 19, Brennan, former secretary-treasurer of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 23, was indicted in U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island on 13 counts of stealing more than $74,000 in funds from the Providence union. The charges had followed a joint investigation by the Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards, Office of Inspector General and Employee Benefits Security Administration. Sadly, only a couple weeks later, on April 3, the Providence Journal reported his death, which had occurred on March 29. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Providence confirmed to NLPC that the John Brennan indicated in the obituary was the same person named in the indictment. No cause of death was given.
On March 19, Julie Skaggs, former office manager for International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Local 372, was indicted in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on one count of embezzling $51,491 in funds from the Cincinnati union. The charge follows a probe by the Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
The Reverend Al Sharpton, anchorman, preacher, politician and shakedown artist extraordinaire, has led what can be viewed as a charmed life. A lengthy expose published yesterday on The Smoking Gun website (see pdf) provides some insight as to why. Starting in 1983, the New York-based civil rights activist, who 20 years later would run for president, allegedly worked for several years as an FBI informant to avoid prosecution. In return for helping the feds root out organized crime from the entertainment industry, Sharpton since then has operated with near immunity. "The Rev" denies he worked as an informant, adding that the report simply rehashes "old news."
On March 17, Jesse Madrigal, former treasurer of the Independent Oil and Chemical Workers Union, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas to two years of probation and ordered to pay a $100 special assessment for embezzling $24,227 in funds from the Kansas City, Kansas-based union. He had pleaded guilty last November. Madrigal already had made full restitution in the amount of $30,607. The actions follow an investigation by the Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.