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 23, Rena Opre, former secretary-treasurer for Service Employees International Union Local 323, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio to paying a $250 fine and a $25 special assessment for falsifying financial records of the Chicago-based union. Opre, a resident of Toledo, had pleaded guilty in May after being charged in March. The actions follow an investigation by the Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
On September 8, Cedric Hughes, former treasurer of the United Union of Professionals, also known as Service Employees International Union Local 721, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to one count of embezzlement of funds from the Los Angeles union in the amount of $15,193. The union represents local health care workers. Hughes had been indicted last December on five counts of wire fraud and one count of embezzlement following a probe by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
Labor officials are about the last people to be impressed by evidence that hiking the minimum wage drives up entry-level unemployment. These last several weeks they've been putting words into action in targeting fast food restaurants. Unions, led by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), are retooling their campaign to establish a $15 an hour minimum wage for fast food employees, more than double the current $7.25 an hour basic federal minimum. Hundreds of protestors, though not necessarily union members, were arrested for blocking traffic on Labor Day. President Obama voiced his approval of the campaign that day in a speech. And the SEIU has called for a nationwide strike.
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 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 with 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.
Though union membership as a share of American workers continues its long decline, union officials in 2013 showed they're not the sort to stand on the sidelines, especially in the legal realm. Organized labor was unusually active last year in using the courts and Congress to press their interests. Their ultimate weapon: immigration amnesty/surge legislation. Eight members of the Senate, four from each party ("the Gang of Eight"), solicited advice exclusively from supporters of open borders in hopes of achieving their idea of "comprehensive reform." The Senators unveiled the measure in April and passed it by 68-32 in June, Yet the bill, deservedly, has stalled in the House. Drafted in secret, with no hearings or debate, it represents a corruption of the political process.
On December 6, Cedric Hughes, former treasurer for Service Employees International Union Local 721, was indicted in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on five counts of wire fraud and one count of embezzlement of $15,193 in funds from the Los Angeles union. Hughes, who served in his position during March 2009-June 2010, wrote unauthorized union checks to himself and made unauthorized cash withdrawals and debit card transactions with his union debit card. The indictment follows an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
State governments are becoming effective union organizers. Several employees in Illinois, unhappy over the prospect of being forced to subsidize such an arrangement, are pushing back. And they've got themselves an audience at the highest level. On October 1, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal by a group of home care providers objecting to an executive order issued in 2009 by Illinois Democratic Governor Pat Quinn that reclassified their status as "state employee," so as to bring them under union representation. The class-action case, known as Harris v. Quinn, will test the High Court's willingness to build on its Knox v. SEIU ruling of last year, which held that a California Service Employees union could not force covered nonunion employees to pay fees to support its political activism.
Considering how much he stole, Tyrone Freeman should consider himself lucky. This past Monday, on October 7, Freeman, ex-president of Service Employees International Union Local 6434, was sentenced in Los Angeles federal court to two years and nine months in prison for stealing union funds and making false statements in connection with obtaining a mortgage loan. He also was ordered to pay about $150,000 in restitution. Prior to his ouster by SEIU International President Andrew Stern in 2008, Freeman had been considered by many to be Stern's heir apparent. He was indicted last July on 15 criminal counts and convicted this January on 14 of them. "I am accountable for these bad decisions," Freeman stated at his sentencing. Unfortunately, his offenses were more than simply bad business decisions.