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.
On October 20, John McMahon, former president of Workers United Local 335-T, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to two years of probation, including six months of home confinement, for making false entries in union financial records related to embezzlement of funds from the Chicago union. He also was ordered to pay $12,460 in restitution plus a $25 special assessment. McMahon had pleaded guilty in June. Workers United is a 150,000-member garment and laundry workers union, formerly the Bruce Raynor-headed faction of UNITE HERE, now affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The sentencing follows an investigation by the Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
It's almost given that a Democratic member of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has at least some background as a union lawyer. Craig Becker, who long had been associate general counsel for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) before obtaining a recess appointment to the board by President Obama in March 2010 following a Senate GOP filibuster, fits the pattern. But he also may have gone that extra mile, helping to prepare an SEIU manual on how to intimidate employers. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, wants to know more. On September 12, Hatch wrote a letter to Becker asking him to clarify what role he had, if any, in drafting the document. As Becker is up for Senate approval for a full-term appointment to the (normally) five-member NLRB, his response - or lack of it - may affect the course of board rulings for years to come.
As "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations have gone national, observers are taking note of the prominent role of labor unions in this anti-business crusade. The rote denunciations of "corporate greed" at these events could have been lifted from almost any AFL-CIO convention speech. That doesn't necessarily mean, of course, that union organizers are putting words in protestors' mouths. Yet it does strongly suggest that organized labor and street radicals recognize each other as natural allies.
On April 28, John McMahon, former president of Workers United Local 335-T, was charged in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois with making false entries in financial records of the Chicago union. Workers United is a breakaway faction of UNITE HERE that re-affiliated with the Service Employees International Union in 2009. The charge follows an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
The Service Employees International Union could have written the book on how to get corporations to surrender. In fact, it has written the book. Lawyers for Sodexo USA, a subsidiary of France-based food services and facilities provider Sodexo Inc., recently revealed as much during the discovery phase of the company's federal racketeering suit against the union: an SEIU manual on how to intimidate employers. By applying extreme pressure, the monograph argued, a union can extract concessions from management on virtually any issue. Section Three of the text, fully 88 pages, can be downloaded from www.workplacechoice.org. The lawsuit, filed in March, has yet to go to trial. Yet whatever the outcome, the manual unwittingly shines a spotlight on the lengths to which unions in this country will go to achieve victory in a corporate campaign.
Is Andrew Stern, the retired president of the Service Employees International Union, a born-again capitalist? That's the emerging view at SEIU headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. and various points beyond. For months, Stern, who stepped down last spring after 14 years at the helm, has been championing a proposal to grant a limited-period tax break for U.S. corporations on investment income earned abroad and transferred to here. Stern's allies in the labor movement are shaking their heads in disbelief. His union enemies are saying, "I told you so." Many in the business world are welcoming him like an old friend. Yet the real story may be that Stern is being his old self: a believer in a large-scale government-corporate-union partnership to generate jobs - preferably union ones.