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.
Last August, things looked sunny for former Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich. He and his lawyers had just obtained a hung jury on 23 of 24 corruption charges. But Justice Department prosecutors, confident they had their man, continued to pursue the case - and this time with different results. Last Monday, June 27, a Chicago federal jury, after nine days of deliberation, found the man known as "Blago" guilty on 17 of 20 charges, nearly a dozen of them related to his attempts during the fall of 2008 to fill the pending Senate vacancy left by President-Elect Barack Obama in return for campaign cash.
When President Obama in March 2010 signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148), the nation's most expensive social legislation in decades, he announced, "The bill I'm signing will set in motion reforms that generations of Americans have fought for and marched for and hungered to see." Yet what the law seems to have set in motion is a rush to obtain exemptions from group coverage requirements.
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.