For about six years, Helen Herold-Roden had mastered the art of stealing from her union. But it’s hard to beat the law of averages. Last Thursday, June 18, Herold-Roden, former secretary-treasurer of Communications Workers of America Local 7603, pleaded guilty (pre-indictment) in U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho to one count of embezzling $138,658 in funds from the Meridian, Idaho-based union, which represents employees of area telecom companies such as AT&T and Century Link. The guilty plea follows an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards. Sentencing is scheduled for September 8.
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.
The current leadership of Communications Workers of America Local 84555 might not be stealing funds, but they are inviting suspicion all the same, especially from the U.S. Department of Labor. On April 28, the DOL filed a complaint in Detroit federal court against the Durand, Mich.-based union, claiming it has been repeatedly and excessively late in filing required annual financial statements to its Office of Labor-Management Standards. The fiscal year 2014 report, for example, was due last June 29 yet has not been sent. The nearly 200-member local has not issued a response.
Unions, even those representing government employees, are private organizations. Yet a new report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) reveals that taxpayers in one state effectively are being forced to cover some of the costs of public-sector union official business. The study, authored by CEI labor policy analyst Trey Kovacs and titled, “A Remedy for Taxpayer Giveaway to Unions” (March 25, 2015), in the face of considerable resistance, dug up clear evidence that state and local government agencies in Missouri are subsidizing public-sector unions during working hours without loss of member pay. These “release time” clauses, built into collective bargaining agreements, are at odds with the public interest, deceptively costly, and almost certainly illegal.
On March 19, Thomas Wolfer, former financial secretary of Communications Workers of America Local 84729, pleaded guilty in the State of Ohio, Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas, to one count of theft in an unspecified amount from the Fayetteville, Ohio union. The plea follows a joint investigation by the Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office.
Sharon Ratcliff had a lot of expenses to cover. Unfortunately, she used her union as a personal bank. On November 14, Ratcliff, formerly secretary-treasurer of Communications Workers of America Local 6150, was charged in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas with embezzling more than $75,000 in funds from the Dallas-based union. Six days later, on November 20, she filed a factual resume with the court, effectively pleading guilty. The actions follow a probe by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
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 September 22, Robert Vargeson, former secretary-treasurer of Communications Workers of America Local 88329, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania to two years of probation for making false entries in financial records of the Gaines (formerly located in nearby Galeton), Pa. union to cover up theft in the amount of $6,373. He also was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $6,013. Vargeson had pleaded guilty on April 24 after being charged 10 days earlier. The actions follow an investigation by the Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
On April 24, Robert Vargeson, former treasurer of Communications Workers of America Local 88329, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania to an information count for falsifying financial records of the Galeton (Potter County), Pa.-based union. The concealment had covered up a loss of $6,373 to the union. Vargeson had been charged 10 days earlier following a probe by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
An employer presumably sets the rules as to who uses its e-mail accounts and for what purposes. But that presumption might not hold if the users are union organizers. On April 30, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) posted a notice soliciting comments on an October ruling by an Administrative Law Judge, Purple Communications Inc., that an employer has the discretion to deny the use of its e-mail system for organizing. If the NLRB reverses the decision, which is likely given its current 3-2 pro-union majority, it would be handing unions a potent organizing tool, and more broadly, restricting employer property rights. A victory by the Communications Workers of America in this case would overturn a 2007 board decision protecting an employer's right to bar the usage of its e-mail for organizing.