Whether one sees New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as confronting or punting, it’s hard to deny he knows a crisis when he sees one. The State Supreme Court sees one as well. On June 9, the Court ruled 5-2 that Christie was within bounds in delaying two years of contributions, nearly $2.5 billion, to the state’s chronically underfunded public-employee pension system. The ruling, a clear blow to the unions who brought forth the suit, for now averts a fiscal calamity. Critics claim that Christie, expected shortly to enter the Republican presidential race, broke a law he signed in 2011, passing the buck to his successors. Supporters counter that the ruling gives the legislature breathing room to fix a condition resulting from years of excessive union contract demands. The latter is a familiar story in other states, too.
Jesse Morgan used to head a union that represented county jail employees. Now he’s set to become a federal prison inmate. On May 11, Morgan, formerly president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1707 in Kansas City, Mo., was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri to 21 months in prison for defrauding the union, which represents employees of the Jackson County Detention Center. He had pleaded guilty in October 2014 after being indicted that February. The actions follow a probe by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.
On January 7, Amanda Kay Nault, former president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 249, pleaded guilty in Lenawee County (Mich.) Circuit Court to embezzling $3,454 in funds from the Adrian-based union. Nault, 31, a resident of nearby Lambertville, Mich., had made union checks out to herself and then forged the signatures of other union officers. She had been charged last September, several months after her resignation. Local 249 represents ProMedica laboratory workers in Lenawee County.
If the year 2014 had a main theme, it was, as in 2013, the unions' pursuit of legal advantage. The results were mixed. Unions scored victories at the National Labor Relations Board, but they tasted defeat in the courts, most notably in their effort to unionize private home care providers in Illinois and overturn a Wisconsin law reining in public-sector costs. In another bitter pill, the United Auto Workers last February lost a representation election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. As for dipping their hands in tills, national union leaders generally behaved themselves, but many local bosses, office employees and business agents did not.
On October 7, Jesse Morgan, former president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1707, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri to one count of wire fraud against the Kansas City, Mo. union. He had been indicted in February on 29 counts of fraud in connection with his embezzlement of at least $185,000 in union funds during his four years at the helm. The actions follow an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
Intimidation is more than simply the use of physical force. It also is about the instilling of fear and shame in one's intended targets. Among labor leaders, one of the best tactics for getting the job done is the 'scab list.' The term refers to a longstanding union practice of compiling a list of employees at a given worksite who choose not to join a union or participate in a strike. The United Auto Workers in particular lately has been stepping up this practice as part of organizing drives in Right to Work states. Whether or not this tactic is legal, one thing is for certain: It amounts to bullying. By divulging the identities of workers who don't toe the union line, the scab list, like its close cousin, the card check, serves as a brake on a worker's right to say no. It is a reminder that "voluntary unionism" isn't quite voluntary in practice.
On September 16, Juanita Phillips, former president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 389, pleaded guilty in the Supreme Court of the State of New York to one count of grand larceny in an unspecified amount against the New York City-based home care employees union. The guilty plea follows an investigation by the Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
On August 27, Robert Lewis, former secretary-treasurer for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3585, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois to four months in prison and one year of supervised release, with the first eight months in home confinement, for embezzling $77,469 in funds from the Canton (near Peoria), Ill.-based union. He also was ordered to pay full restitution and a $100 assessment. Lewis had pleaded guilty in April. AFSCME Local 3585 represents employees at the Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton. The actions follow the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards and Office of Inspector General.
Public-sector unions largely owe their growth to their authority to force non-joining workers to put money in their coffers. The Supreme Court believes this authority needs some restraint. By a 5-4 margin, the Court ruled on Monday, June 30, in Harris v. Quinn that nonunion private-sector home health workers cannot be required to support a public employee union even if their wages come from state Medicaid funds. The class-action suit originated in 2010 when several home care workers sued the State of Illinois and two unions, challenging two executive orders issued, respectively, in 2003 and 2009 classifying thousands of these service providers as state employees. The orders, wrote Justice Samuel Alito, violated worker freedom of speech. At the same time, the ruling did not overturn the 1977 decision that justified the public-sector union shop and applied it to non-members.
On March 27, Robert Lewis, former treasurer of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3585, was charged in U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois in a criminal information count with embezzlement of $77,469 in funds from the Canton (near Peoria), Ill. union. Less than three weeks later, on April 14, he signed a waiver of indictment and pled guilty. AFSCME Local 3585 represents employees at the Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton. The actions follow a probe by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards and Office of Inspector General.