The increasing overlap of labor and political activism is an insidious form of public corruption in this country. It enables union officials to deemphasize their role of representing workers at the bargaining table in favor of advocating policies to socialize the economy, building incestuous relationships with politicians, and fattening their bank accounts. This tendency was heavily felt in 2012, a presidential election year. Union leaders recognized the need to re-elect their ally and benefactor, President Barack Obama, over someone who was a wealthy Republican with a strong business background; i.e., someone they truly could despise. They got what they wanted. In the process, they further built a political infrastructure. Yet union leaders also experienced reversals of fortune at the state level - most of all, in Michigan - where they had been used to getting their way.
Melissa King is going to spend six years in prison. For union members, that can't be long enough. Their anger is understandable. King, formerly benefits consultant for Laborers International Union of North America Local 147, aka "the Sandhogs," received her prison sentence in Manhattan federal court on June 21 for embezzling what prosecutors said was $42 million from the local. Dozens of members of the New York City-based underground construction workers union were on hand for the occasion. It was the largest instance of one-person embezzlement in American organized labor history. Ms. King, who aspired to the life of a queen, proved as adept at spending money as she was at stealing it. The main concern among rank and file now is how much of their retirement benefits they will see - assuming they can afford to retire.
Melissa King, belatedly, has admitted to wrongdoing. But she still insists she's small-time. King, former benefits administrator for Local 147 of the Laborers International Union of North America, "the Sandhogs," pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court on October 21 to embezzling union funds and filing false personal income tax returns. Though prosecutors have put her total take at more than $40 million, King believes that's inflated. "I plead guilty, but I don't plead guilty to millions of dollars," she told U.S. District Judge John Koeltl. Evidence, however, reveals a woman possessed of a limitless desire for material extravagance at the expense of the roughly 1,000-member New York City underground construction union. The exact total of the thefts will be determined later. She faces a maximum eight-year prison sentence in February.
Organized labor, masters of aggressive politics, had its share of triumphs in 2010. With Democrats, their natural ally, the previous year having taken control of the White House and the Senate while increasing their advantage in the House, this was to be expected. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and other union officials used their window of opportunity to pressure Congress into passing a health care overhaul mandating unprecedented degrees of government intrusion, and by extension, major opportunities for unionization of the health care labor force. They also secured key presidential appointments.
Melissa King is learning about the high cost of services. And this time, she's paying rather than collecting. Ms. King, former benefits administrator for New York's Laborers International Union of North America Local 147, was indicted by a Manhattan federal grand jury this past February for fleecing the union of more than $40 million to feed an insatiable appetite for material things. It is one of the largest embezzlement cases in American labor history, if not the largest. Recently, she complained about the distinct possibility that mounting a legal defense could cost at least $5 million. Very few, if any, observers are working up much sympathy for the defendant.
The indictment of Melissa King may have been a formality, but members of the union from which she allegedly stole on a staggering scale are satisfied all the same. On February 17, King, former longtime benefits administrator of Laborers International Union of North America Local 147, better known as the "Sandhogs," was indicted by a federal grand jury for embezzling more than $40 million from three benefit funds sponsored by the New York City tunnel-diggers union. She had been arrested on November 30 and charged the following day in Manhattan federal court. Such are the consequences of a ceaseless quest for the high life.
"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.
One would think a union office administrator who makes more than $500,000 a year wouldn't have to resort to stealing. But Melissa King isn't a typical administrator. King, until recently the longtime benefits consultant for Local 147 of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) in New York, was charged on December 1 in Manhattan federal court with arguably the largest embezzlement scheme in the history of American labor. Prosecutors are saying that for at least six years she stole a staggering $42 million from three union benefit funds, diverting the money to bank accounts that she controlled. Her lawyers claim she is innocent. Now out on $10 million bail, she's going to have a tough time convincing a jury of that.