When it comes to tracking down missing money, following one's best instincts is normally good policy. It certainly was that in the case of Denise Owens. On February 19, Owens, a former public school teacher in coastal Worcester County, Md., and former treasurer of the Worcester County Teachers Association, was found guilty in a Maryland state court of embezzling more than $430,000 from the union. It was a sum nearly four times that originally reported. The defendant, who until recently had gone by her former married name, Denise Tull, had an affliction all too common to union officials who steal: problem gambling. Owens was arrested by state police last August following an investigation. The details reveal not just a corrupt official, but also a union leadership less than fully accountable to its members.
To his sworn enemies, Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker's victory last Tuesday over Democratic challenger Tom Barrett by 53 to 46 percent has been hard to spin and to accept. The biggest loser, aside from Barrett himself, is the state's public-sector labor unions. There's not much getting around it. It was public-sector unions who led the effort to recall Walker following passage by the legislature over a year ago of a fiscal reform package that included several tough limitations on collective bargaining power. Unions and allied groups by this January gathered nearly a million signatures to put a recall on the ballot.
If an embezzler returns money to its proper owner, that doesn't erase the fact of the embezzlement. Authorities in Worcester County, Maryland have been operating on that principle since late January, when they initiated a probe of the temporary disappearance of more than $100,000 belonging to the Worcester County Teachers Association (WCTA). Evidence points to a former union treasurer, Denise Tull, as the most likely culprit. While Tull hasn't been charged with any offense, prosecutors believe an allegation of "misappropriated funds" contained in the association's 2011 tax filing will reveal the truth. "We have a potential crime that has gone unreported, at least to law enforcement," said Worcester County State's Attorney Beau Oglesby at the time. "There's going to be a complete and thorough investigation."
Michelle Placer thought in terms of wants, not consequences. On July 26, Placer, 38, was arrested by Ingham County (Lansing), Michigan sheriff's deputies for embezzling more than $30,000 in dues from the Holt Paraeducator Association, the employee union where she had served as treasurer. The money was to have been forwarded to its state affiliate, the Michigan Education Association, in turn an affiliate of the National Education Association. Placer was later released on bond. An initial complaint had been lodged last December with the county sheriff's office.
Government in Wisconsin, one probably has heard by now, is paralyzed. And the ultimate losers may be future generations of taxpayers. Last Thursday, February 17, up to 25,000 protestors, led by public-sector union officials, rallied in the state capital of Madison to intimidate legislators out of voting in favor of new Republican Governor Scott Walker's budget austerity plan, which includes major concessions from unions.
Ever so quietly, America passed a milestone in 2009. For the first time in our history the number of employees in the public sector belonging to a labor union exceeded the number in the private sector. Proposed legislation in Congress would push this trend along further. The benignly-named Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act (H.R.413, S.1611) would mandate union monopoly bargaining for state and local public-safety employees. Its brand of "cooperation," strongly backed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and other unions, would force police, fire, ambulance, and corrections departments across the country to create collective bargaining units to cover employees. If evidence is any guide, however, this expansion of public-sector unionism is likely to produce higher taxes, strained budgets and more strikes.