The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners long has had corruption problems. The union’s St. Louis-Kansas City Regional Council might well qualify as its corruption leader. Two years ago, Jonathan Gould, a union member and former compliance officer for the council, filed a civil racketeering suit in Missouri state court accusing council officials of “embezzling money from members to inflate their own pensions and cash in on travel perks for spouses,” plus acts of sexual harassment, assault, drunk driving, and drug abuse. The council, which consists of 34 unions in Kansas, Missouri and Illinois representing about 22,000 members, has responded with a blitz of counterclaims. Matters have yet to be settled.
The roots of this legal tug of war go back several years. Jonathan Gould, a floor tile layer from Edwardsville, Ill. who still describes himself as a “strong union man,” during the summer of 2014 had accepted the nomination for head of the board of the St. Louis-based council. Longtime incumbent Terrence Nelson didn’t like that. Just moments later, Nelson told him, “You just lost your (expletive) job.” Gould ran anyway, frequently denouncing acts of theft and fraud by council leaders. For years, he charged, the council had inflated paychecks and pensions for 51 executives through an “illegal vehicle policy” and had misspent dues on such items as airfare for union spouses and alcohol purchases at conventions. Gould also accused council leaders of spreading defamatory rumors that he had suffered mental breakdowns and accepted kickbacks from a secret contractor program. The mere fact that the St. Louis-Kansas City Regional Council had so many “executives” suggested he had a point.
The campaign was unsuccessful. Nelson was re-elected. But his tenure would be brief. In October 2015 he retired, making way for his hand-picked successor, Al Bond Jr. As for Gould, he had been fired in August 2014. Two years later, in August 2016, he filed suit in Missouri state court against the council and its eight top officials, charging, “Union dues are being appropriated, stolen, embezzled and converted from the union coffers to inflate the pensions of Carpenters’ officials without the consent of the union members.” Carpenters representatives, alleged Gould, had committed the following offenses: failed drug tests; multiple DUIs; loss of driver’s license; indecent exposure to a girlfriend of a prominent Illinois developer; sending an unqualified stepson of a nonmember to a job site, who subsequently was injured on the job; assault against a representative and a member; taking an unauthorized trip to Hawaii; unexplained work tardiness and absenteeism. Not only did the council allegedly ignore this behavior, it spent millions of dollars in member dues on legal fees to protect itself from the consequences.
The defendants, in response, filed a series of counterclaims. The council claims that Gould was forced out legally, having served in an appointed position and losing the 2014 election. It also states that the allegedly defamatory statements made by various officials were opinions, not facts, and that if they made them, they did so without knowing they were false. Additionally, said lawyers for the council, the National Labor Relations Board earlier had dismissed an Unfair Labor Practices suit by Gould for lack of evidence. Gould believes he has plenty of evidence on his side. The case went to trial in circuit court on February 5 of this year. After several motions by each side, on August 2 the court granted the union a motion to dismiss the charges and ordered the case remanded to the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis. Because the case was dismissed “without prejudice,” Gould retains the right to refile charges at a later date.
All this should be put in the context of the battle in Missouri over Right to Work legislation. As Union Corruption Update explained (here and here), the state until recently had been union monopoly territory. Private-sector nonunion workers covered by union contract were required to pay partial dues (“agency fees”) or face termination. That changed early in 2017 when Republican lawmakers, supported by new (and now former) Governor Eric Greitens, passed a law repealing the mandate. Missouri now was the nation’s 28th Right to Work state. Organized labor officials responded by launching a drive to overturn the law via a ballot referendum, Proposition A. Unions spent $15 million knocking on doors, making phone calls and collecting signatures. The effort paid off. On August 7, voters approved the measure. Carpenters Regional Council Director Al Bond was a key figure in this campaign. Indeed, Greitens’ predecessor, Jay Nixon, personally congratulated Bond for working to protect his veto of similar legislation back in 2015. It is therefore reasonable to say that if reluctant joiners and fee payers had the freedom to withhold dues all this time, the funds available for misuse and coverup would have been smaller. And if that were the case, the alleged corruption and ensuing lawsuits likely never would have happened.