In Minnesota, labor unions might qualify as a separate branch of government. Governor Mark Dayton, for one, wouldn’t object. Three years ago the State of Minnesota enacted a law opening the door to unionizing private home care providers for the disabled. The law soon seemed destined for oblivion. In June 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Harris v. Quinn, ruled that an Illinois law forcing home care workers to pay union dues violated their free speech rights. That these employees received a portion of their incomes from state Medicaid funds, concluded the Court, should not subject them to a public-sector labor agreement. Yet the Minnesota law’s supporters have kept up their efforts, winning an SEIU representation vote in August 2014 and losing an AFSCME vote in March of this year.
When it comes to coercion, government employee unions are masters of the game. But now they must contend with masters of the courtroom. On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hearFriedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA), a case previously dismissed by district and appeals courts. Several school teachers across California, led by an Orange County teacher, Rebecca Friedrichs (in photo), assert that the CTA has no authority to levy political fees on non-members without prior consent. In light of its 2012 Knox decision, and the political character of many “non-political” bargaining issues, the Court may overturn its 1977 Abood ruling authorizing the public-sector union shop. The CTA and allies counter, less than convincingly, that the plaintiffs are “free riders” mooching off dues-paying members.
On January 12, Cedric Hughes, former treasurer of the United Union of Professionals, alternately known as Service Employees International Union Local 721, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to five years of probation for embezzling $15,193 in funds from the Los Angeles-based health care workers union. He also was ordered to make full restitution, and pay a $2,000 fine and a $100 special assessment. Hughes had pleaded guilty in September after being indicted in December 2013. The actions follow an investigation by the 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 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.