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.
It may have been a formality, but the executive board of the Service Employees International Union this past Saturday overwhelmingly named SEIU Executive Vice President Mary Kay Henry to succeed Andrew Stern as the labor organization's next president. The 73-member governing body met in Washington, D.C. to select Ms. Henry, who ran unopposed after Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger dropped out of the race a little over a week earlier. Henry, like Burger, is a Stern loyalist.
The successor to Andrew Stern as president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) had come down to his two top aides. Now it's down to one. Late last week, SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger announced that she had dropped out of the race for interim president, virtually assuring that the union's executive board this week will name Executive Vice President Mary Kay Henry for that position. As each was a Stern ally - he'd referred to them as "lifelong partners" - the race was less about politics than personality and management style. In a letter withdrawing her candidacy, Burger termed Ms. Henry, who also heads the SEIU health care division, her "union sister" and stated she would work closely with her. Burger wrote: "The media is just wrong when they suggest that this contest represents a shift in SEIU's priorities or a rejection of the Stern/Burger agenda."
On February 17, Pamela Williams, former travel/procurement coordinator for Service Employees International Union Local 880, was charged in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois with one count of embezzling $6,080. The amount allegedly taken was modest, but the case has national significance. The Chicago-based SEIU Local 880, now known as SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana, was founded some 30 years ago as a subsidiary of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, the scandal-plagued nationwide nonprofit network set to go out of existence on April 1. Pamela Williams may be little more than a small-time thief, but she's given critics of the leadership of ACORN, and the SEIU, another reason to believe that organized labor and street radicals shouldn't mix.
Barack Obama and organized labor have made no secret about promoting each other's interests. Indeed, his 2008 presidential victory would have been much more difficult in absence of union financial contributions and volunteer work. Thus, Obama's recess appointment Saturday of Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board, effectively overriding a Senate Republican filibuster last month, served as a political IOU as well as an expression of the president's will. Becker, currently a top union lawyer, has argued that workers should not have any right to opt out of union representation. Moreover, he's counseled a large local union founded as a subsidiary of the corrupt and soon-to-be-extinct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Becker was one of 15 White House Easter recess appointments that included a less controversial NLRB nominee, Mark Pearce, who, like Becker, is a Democrat.
To many of its critics, the National Labor Relations Board might well be renamed the National Organized Labor Relations Board. That's because this ostensibly impartial federal adjudication body frequently has displayed a discernible pro-union tilt. President Obama is primed to push the NLRB further in that direction given that fully three positions on the five-person board are now vacant. Of the nominees who face final confirmation to fill those slots, by far the most controversial is Craig Becker, approved by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions this past Thursday by a 13-10 margin. As associate general counsel to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the AFL-CIO, and as a well-published law professor, Becker has amassed a substantial track record of union partisanship.
"We spent a fortune to elect Barack Obama - $60.7 million to be exact - and we're proud of it," Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Andrew Stern proclaimed last year. Now he and other labor leaders want a full return on their investment. "A full return," more than anything else, means getting Congress, the executive branch and the courts to transform labor law and policy into vehicles for a massive expansion of union membership and bargaining power.
On November 17, Joseph Morana, former president of National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) Local 01-86, admitted in District Court of Brockton, Massachusetts to a finding of sufficient facts to the charge of larceny. He was ordered to serve up to two years of supervised probation, and to pay $7,696.48 in restitution to the West Roxbury union plus a special assessment of $90. NAGE is an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. Admitting to a "finding of facts" amounts to a guilty plea, though without using the word "guilty." The action follows an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is among the many partners that the Obama administration has relied upon in its ongoing effort to socialize the U.S. economy. Indeed, the SEIU has been a special partner. That's because President Andrew Stern has operated as a lobbyist all but in name. A major Washington, D.C. conservative nonprofit organization and a related group are putting the union on alert that this may be illegal. For the second time in less than a month, Americans for Tax Reform and an affiliate, the Alliance for Worker Freedom, have asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether White House visits by a top union official exceeded the allowable threshold for persons not registered as lobbyists. The last time around, the inquiry centered upon Stern. This time around, it is focusing on the union's secretary-treasurer, Anna Burger.
Unions understandably resent competition from non-joining workers. And their members do what they can, legally or not, to discourage it. But a local Pennsylvania affiliate of the Service Employees International Union may have taken things too far in allegedly threatening to sue an Eagle Scout. In the wake of bad publicity, its president has resigned. On Thursday, May 19, Nick Balzano, president of the Allentown chapter of New York City's SEIU Local 32BJ, along with several other union employees, submitted a letter of resignation only a day after FoxNews.com reported that the union might file a grievance against the City of Allentown for allowing a teenager to clear brush to create a walking trail. While SEIU headquarters denied a formal grievance had been filed, the resignations cast an unfavorable shadow upon the union either way.