Stephen Lerner is a hard person to admire. His specialty, after all, is economic sabotage. Yet his utility to the cause of public accountability is undeniable. Lerner, a longtime official with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) until his supposed ouster last November, was caught on March 18 and 19 on audiotape speaking before a closed-session audience at Pace University in Manhattan describing an SEIU plan to destabilize the U.S. economy. The campaign, which he heads, intends to take down the financial sector and trigger a massive redistribution of wealth and power.
It's not every day that an American labor union gets investigated for possible ties to two of the world's most lethal terrorist organizations. But Chicago's Service Employees International Union Local 73 isn't an everyday union. Last September 24, FBI agents raided residences in Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan of more than a dozen radical activists in an effort to connect them to the Hamas (Gaza and the West Bank) and FARC (Colombia) guerrilla movements. Two of the occupants were SEIU Local 73 chief steward and executive board member Joe Iosbaker and former local board member-steward Tom Burke. Neither they nor anyone else has been arrested. But as the case unfolds, questions have arisen over the possibility of involvement not only by the activists, but also by elements of the Chicago-based radical network that nurtured President Obama's political ambitions.
New York City residents finally are digging out of a devastating post-Christmas blizzard, aided by unexpectedly warmer weather. But a growing number are sounding as if they want to use their shovels against union snowplow workers and their supervisors. Various news outlets have reported that leaders of the Service Employees-affiliated Sanitation Officers Association ordered their Teamsters-affiliated work crews to slack off as a protest against recent City Department of Sanitation budget cuts and demotions. The apparent work slowdown not only paralyzed traffic, but also led to two deaths and any number of commuters trapped overnight in subway cars. On the hot seat, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has demanded, and is getting, a full investigation. Union leaders deny culpability, insisting fiscal austerity had reduced manpower. But evidence appears to undercut such claims.
Votes without voters - the notion seems like something from "The Twilight Zone." Yet this outcome, the result of a mysterious computer glitch, may have helped re-elect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over his Republican challenger, Sharron Angle, last week by a 50.2%-44.6% margin. Actually, the "mystery" is very likely the doing of a local of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which nationwide provides votes, money and muscle for the Democratic Party. Critics are charging that voting machines throughout Clark County (Las Vegas), where about three-fourths of Nevada's population resides, were rigged to place check marks next to Reid's name before a person even had voted. County officials insist that no tampering occurred. But the possibility can't be dismissed, especially given that one of Reid's sons is county commission chairman.
On June 24, Pamela Williams, former travel/procurement coordinator for Service Employees Local 880 in Chicago, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to five years probation, five months of home confinement, and 300 hours of community service for embezzling $6,080.06 in union funds. She also was ordered to pay full restitution and a $100 special assessment. Williams pleaded guilty in March following a probe by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
The abrupt departure by Andrew Stern this spring as president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), after 14 years on the job, blindsided a lot of observers. After all, he was a shadow cabinet member of the Obama administration. Reported ongoing federal investigations into two unrelated, and possibly illegal, financial arrangements may shed light on his motives. The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times each ran stories last Tuesday stating the FBI and the Department of Labor have been interviewing persons potentially knowledgeable about the possibility that Stern: 1) received unauthorized funds from a book he'd authored several years ago; and 2) approved the disbursement of funds to pay for a Southern California SEIU local official's no-show job who eventually was convicted in an unrelated kickback scheme. Stern denies his involvement in these activities and indeed even the fact of an investigation.
Admirers may still call her "the queen of American labor," but Anna Burger (see photo) is now without a throne. Last week Burger stepped down as secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union and as chairwoman of the SEIU-driven labor federation, Change to Win. Her resignations, which came on the heels of her announcement, weren't unexpected to those who know her. Her boss and longtime ally, Andrew Stern, only a few months earlier had resigned as Service Employees president. And Burger couldn't secure the needed support from the union's executive committee in her bid to become Stern's successor. The top spot went to Executive Vice President Mary Kay Henry. Though publicly she welcomed Ms. Henry's ascension, privately she was planning her exit. That's the nature of power struggles in any type of organization: Odd person out leaves.
From a public relations standpoint, getting forced out of the Illinois governor's mansion a year and a half ago was a smart career move for Rod Blagojevich. He's been all over the TV since, doing stints on such shows as "Celebrity Apprentice" and "The Late Show with David Letterman." But publicity may not be enough to keep him or several of his former allies out of prison. His long-awaited trial on fraud and conspiracy charges related to his attempt to sell Barack Obama's pending Senate vacancy to the highest bidder began on June 8, the result of a five-year Justice Department probe into corruption in Chicago politics. Prosecutors wrapped up their case just before 5 P.M. Tuesday. Evidence introduced thus far confirms widespread suspicions that former Gov. Blagojevich and his benefactors were part of a larger Chicago-Obama White House conduit.
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.