If the year 2014 had a main theme, it was, as in 2013, the unions' pursuit of legal advantage. The results were mixed. Unions scored victories at the National Labor Relations Board, but they tasted defeat in the courts, most notably in their effort to unionize private home care providers in Illinois and overturn a Wisconsin law reining in public-sector costs. In another bitter pill, the United Auto Workers last February lost a representation election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. As for dipping their hands in tills, national union leaders generally behaved themselves, but many local bosses, office employees and business agents did not.
On September 30, Jerry Ragster, former president of United Auto Workers Local 3057, pleaded guilty in the 71st District Court of Harrison County, Texas to theft of $3,372 in funds from the Marshall, Tex.-based union. He made full restitution during his plea. Ragster had been indicted in November 2013 after an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards. UAW Local 3057 represented employees of Dana Corp. at the auto parts supplier's Longview plant until its closure in 2012.
Intimidation is more than simply the use of physical force. It also is about the instilling of fear and shame in one's intended targets. Among labor leaders, one of the best tactics for getting the job done is the 'scab list.' The term refers to a longstanding union practice of compiling a list of employees at a given worksite who choose not to join a union or participate in a strike. The United Auto Workers in particular lately has been stepping up this practice as part of organizing drives in Right to Work states. Whether or not this tactic is legal, one thing is for certain: It amounts to bullying. By divulging the identities of workers who don't toe the union line, the scab list, like its close cousin, the card check, serves as a brake on a worker's right to say no. It is a reminder that "voluntary unionism" isn't quite voluntary in practice.
When it comes to organizing German-owned facilities in the U.S., the United Auto Workers can't be accused of shyness - or it would seem, transparency. For the past several months, the union, led since early June by its new president, Dennis Williams, has been stepping up its campaign to represent Mercedes-Benz workers in central Alabama. The UAW, still smarting from its election defeat this February at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., is aware that victory is unlikely. To overcome disadvantage, organizers apparently have been resorting to misinformation. They've been telling workers that federal law bars them from discussing pay and working conditions unless they belong to a union.
On September 17, Marcia Shull, former financial secretary of United Auto Workers Local 661, was charged in an information count in Hancock County, Indiana Circuit Court with theft and forgery of unspecified sums from the Greenfield, Ind.-based union. The charges follow an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
On April 28, Udean Forbes-Payton, former financial secretary of United Auto Workers Local 2500, was charged in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan with embezzling $5,562 in funds from the Detroit-based union during December 2006-May 2011 and then concealing the thefts in union records. The charges follow an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards and Office of Inspector General.
On April 22, Kristie McClarren, former financial secretary of United Auto Workers Local 3061, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio to 18 months of confinement, followed by two years of supervised release, for embezzling $152,639 in funds from the Crestline (near Mansfield), Ohio union. She also was ordered to make full restitution. McClarren had pleaded guilty in January after being charged last December. The local represents employees at the Pittsburgh Glass Works plant in nearby Shelby. The actions follow a joint investigation by the Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards and Office of Inspector General.
The United Auto Workers is a union that likes a good fight. But even its leaders recognize a lost cause - for now. This morning the union withdrew its appeal to the National Labor Relations Board challenging a secret ballot election held in mid-February that would have enabled it to represent workers at the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga. Despite having committed VW management to silence via neutrality agreement, the UAW lost by 712 to 626. The union immediately claimed the results were invalid as a result of undue interference by anti-union Tennessee public officials. On February 21, the UAW filed a request with the NLRB to overturn the vote. Yet today it dropped its suit.
By any reasonable assessment, the odds are against the United Auto Workers. But the union is going ahead anyway with its effort to nullify a vote by Volkswagen assembly plant workers in Chattanooga, Tenn. to reject UAW representation. On Friday, February 21, only hours before expiration of the seven-day deadline, the union filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to overturn the election, decided by a 712-to-626 margin. The outcome was a bitter pill to swallow. A victory would have served as a springboard for organizing drives at foreign-owned auto plants elsewhere in the South.
On January 17, Kristie McClarren, former financial secretary of United Auto Workers Local 3061, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio to one count of embezzling funds in the sum of $152,639 from the Crestline (near Mansfield), Ohio-based union. She had been charged in December. The local represents employees at the Pittsburgh Glass Works plant in nearby Shelby. The charge and guilty plea follow a joint probe by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards and Office of Inspector General.