Despite all evidence to the contrary, Tyrone Freeman (see photo) was convinced he was innocent. It proved less a conviction than a delusion. This past Monday, January 28, a Los Angeles federal jury convicted the once-powerful Southern California Service Employees International Union (SEIU) leader on 14 criminal charges, including embezzlement, mail fraud and tax fraud. It was an ignominious downfall for a man whom many believed one day would succeed his ally and mentor, then-SEIU President Andrew Stern. "This was a case about abuse and betrayal," said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. "Freeman abused his position as a leader of the SEIU, and he betrayed the hardworking people whose interests he was supposed to represent."
The increasing overlap of labor and political activism is an insidious form of public corruption in this country. It enables union officials to deemphasize their role of representing workers at the bargaining table in favor of advocating policies to socialize the economy, building incestuous relationships with politicians, and fattening their bank accounts. This tendency was heavily felt in 2012, a presidential election year. Union leaders recognized the need to re-elect their ally and benefactor, President Barack Obama, over someone who was a wealthy Republican with a strong business background; i.e., someone they truly could despise. They got what they wanted. In the process, they further built a political infrastructure. Yet union leaders also experienced reversals of fortune at the state level - most of all, in Michigan - where they had been used to getting their way.
"The unbridled growth of crony unionism and government corruption will destroy the United States as we know it." This statement may strike many as sheer hyperbole. But its author, Mallory Factor, a political scientist at The Citadel, knows whereof he writes. His new book, "Shadowbosses: Government Unions Control America and Rob Taxpayers Blind" (New York: Center Street), makes a credible case, and a well-sourced one, that our country may be in the early stages of a ruinous dystopia, courtesy of public-sector unions. In pursuing their interests, argues the author, these labor organizations hold taxpaying citizens hostage to unsustainable wage/salary, pension, health care and other contractual commitments. Municipal bankruptcy filings this year by San Bernardino and Stockton, Calif. may be a mere taste of things to come.
On September 13, Kevin Threat, former president of National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) Local R3-84, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland to 60 days of home detention and five years of probation, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $15,505 for embezzling funds from the Alexandria, Va.-based union. Threat is a Maryland resident, hence the reason for the case prosecuted in that state. He had been charged early in March and pleaded guilty later that month. NAGE is an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The actions follow an investigation by the Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards and Office of Inspector General.
On July 31, Rufino Sanchez, former president of National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) Local R3 10, was indicted in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on 22 counts of mail fraud relating to the theft of $15,723 in funds from the Ronkonkoma, Long Island (Suffolk County), N.Y.-based union. A couple weeks later, on August 16, he was arrested and arraigned. NAGE is an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. The indictment and arrest follow an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
Tyrone Freeman was once a rising star within the Service Employees International Union. Now his fall is imminent. Last Tuesday, July 31, Freeman, former president of the powerful Los Angeles-based United Long-Term Care Workers, also known as SEIU Local 6434, was indicted in federal court on 15 counts of embezzlement, tax evasion and other offenses. The action wasn't unexpected. Freeman's one-time benefactor, former SEIU President Andrew Stern, had permanently moved him from his post in late 2008 following newspaper accounts of corruption. The stories triggered an internal probe and a nearly four-year joint investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, FBI and IRS. Freeman's lawyers say their client is innocent. A jury might not be of a similar cast of mind. His wife already has pleaded guilty. And he's facing an unresolved state civil suit.
The U.S. Supreme Court once again has put the nation's public-sector unions on notice: Fee-paying nonmember workers under contract can't be forced to subsidize political causes they don't like. Last Thursday, June 21, in its long-awaited decision in Knox et al. v. SEIU, the Court affirmed a longstanding principle. Ruling 7-2 on the merits of the case and 5-4 on the issue of First Amendment rights, the Court concluded that the Sacramento-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000, California's largest public employee union, had deprived "agency shop" workers of the right to opt out of making monetary contributions toward union advocacy.
On January 26, Joseph Barnes, former national director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, was indicted in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California for embezzlement totaling $4,380. The coalition, based in Washington, D.C., represents about 90,000 Kaiser Permanente employees, half of whom belong to Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare West (SEIU-UHW). The indictment follows an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Services.
'Occupy Wall Street' and similar protests around the nation were only the beginning. The Service Employees International Union, as much as anyone, is making sure of it. The SEIU these past several months has been playing a crucial behind-the-scenes role in transforming these rallies into the raw material for a new generation of activists. Through varied front groups, the union is taking its fight against banks, energy companies and other corporations to a new level, making sure reluctant elected officials feel their wrath. These nonprofit organizations, typically operating under monikers such as "good jobs" and "a fair economy," may seem spontaneous and benign. Yet they are union stage-managed. And as their leaders become more sophisticated and networked, unions may wind up a good deal more effective in their drive to place the U.S. economy under public control.
Unions for many years have been a highly reliable segment of the Democratic Party Left. Yet this perhaps no more was this true than in 2011 - and with good reason. The year began with the Republicans holding a nearly 50-seat edge in the House of Representatives following the GOP's smashing wins in the November 2010 midterm elections. Avoiding legislative process became a top priority for organized labor.