John Sweeney stood at the left end of American unionism. And for 14 years, he stood atop that world, radicalizing organized labor and America in the process – and not for the better. On February 1, Sweeney, who served as AFL-CIO president during 1995-2009, died of natural causes at his home in Bethesda, Md. He was 86. His successor, current AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, lamented: “John was a great leader and a true innovator, driving the labor movement forward. We stand on that foundation today as we take on the challenges of inequality, systemic racism and much more.” Such praise embodies what has gone wrong with union leadership. By pouring vast sums of time and money into the coffers of the Democratic Party, and its allied political action committees and nonprofit groups, he moved the needle of American politics well to the left.
New York City-area construction unions are well-known for being on the take. A recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice won’t likely alter that reputation. On October 1, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced the arrest and indictment of 11 officials of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council on various charges related to their receipt of over $100,000 in bribes from nonunion contractors in return for bid-rigging, in the process selling out the dues-paying union members whom they represented. Led by Trades Council President James Cahill, the defendants are current or former members of two local affiliates of the United Association of Plumbers & Pipefitters. Aiding in the probe was the Suffolk County (Long Island), N.Y. district attorney’s office. All the defendants pleaded not guilty at arraignment.
It’s a common form of back-scratching in the world of organized labor: An … Read More ➡
Longevity isn’t in the cards for everyone. But Herman Benson, who died last month at his home in Brooklyn, N.Y. at the age of 104, was one of the lucky ones. And those of us who make a living fighting corruption and gangsterism in organized labor are luckier for it. Benson, in his lifetime, edited a weekly tabloid; helped draft the Landrum-Griffin Act, which is the basis for union financial accountability in this country; and for the last half-century ran the Association for Union Democracy (AUD), a Brooklyn-based nonprofit advocate for honest unionism. Though of the Left, Benson’s legacy is instructive across the political spectrum. “He was a one-man army in the union democracy movement for over 50 years,” notes Ken Paff, co-founder of Teamsters for a Democratic Union.
Make no mistake, Benson was a labor socialist. Yet he displayed a consistent willingness to denounce union leaders who operated … Read More ➡
It’s called “the blue wall of silence,” that seemingly impenetrable code of honor among cops who cover for fellow officers suspected of breaking the law. For decades, this code has been scrutinized but rarely as much as right now in the wake of the videotaped death of a black suspect, George Floyd, while in the custody of Minneapolis police. In addition to triggering demonstrations and riots, the incident, with less fanfare, has caused many people to call out the unions representing cops as being part of the problem. Critics argue that police unions often are more focused on shielding members from accountability than protecting the public or improving community relations. While riots and demands for the abolition of police forces are indefensible, there are legitimate concerns that police unions are doing more harm than good.
There are currently about 700,000 law enforcement officers in this … Read More ➡
Union health, retirement and other benefit funds all too often serve as incubators for fraud and embezzlement. The U.S. Department of Labor, after over 15 years, may be on the verge of realizing an oft-thwarted tool for dramatically reducing these thefts. On March 6, DOL’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) published a final rule requiring labor organizations with total annual receipts of at least $250,000 to file a financial report, Form T-1, detailing how their trust funds are spent. “Full disclosure of trust operations gives workers the information they need to make informed choices, and more information means better decisions,” said OLMS Director Arthur Rosenfeld. The regulation is effective April 6. But unions may go to court to block it – something they did twice, and successfully, during the Bush years.
As with any type of organization, labor unions present opportunities for illegal self-enrichment. That’s especially true for their health, … Read More ➡
It’s been a dream of organized labor for decades. Yesterday the House of Representatives took a big step toward its realization. By a nearly party-line 224-194 vote, the House approved the misnamed Protecting the Right to Organize or PRO Act (H.R. 2474), which would strip employers and non-joining employees of their capacity to resist union aggression. Introduced last May by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and passed by the Education and Labor Committee in September, the measure, under the premise of “restoring” lost rights, among other things, would override state Right to Work laws, ban arbitration agreements, and force employers to recognize a union if a majority of workers sign membership pledge cards. Supporters are ecstatic for now, but they may have to wait a while for Senate action.
The PRO Act, at bottom, is a union power grab. Indeed, it is a power grab so … Read More ➡
If there is a worse piece of legislation in the history of American labor relations than the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, one would be hard-pressed to find it. This gift to organized labor, introduced in May by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would dismantle virtually every existing safeguard against union monopoly in the private-sector workplace. Among its features, the measure would override state Right to Work laws protecting employees from being fired for withholding union dues; create an expansive “joint employer” standard to force employers to bargain alongside their contractors; and ban employment arbitration agreements. The House Education and Labor Committee approved the measure on September 25 in a party-line 26-21 vote, setting up a brutal battle in 2020 in the full House and likely the Senate.
Labor unions in this country regularly proclaim their solidarity with “working families,” also known as “working … Read More ➡
The Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, as NLPC readers well know, has identified and helped prosecute much union corruption over the years. But the agency’s efforts would be even better realized if it finalized a pair of dormant rules promised two years ago. The first would establish a new financial reporting form, T-1, requiring unions with at least some private-sector members to disclose financial data for pension funds and other trusts. The second would impose financial reporting upon intermediate-level unions. Each had been proposed during the first term of the Bush presidency but shelved under President Obama. Contrary to frequent assertions from labor leaders, these regulations would not be burdensome. But they are likely to make unions more responsive to dues-paying members.
Napoleon Gomez Urrutia has been on the lam for some three years. And now that his government wants to put him on trial again, he doesn’t mind hiding indefinitely. Gomez is – or was, depending on how one looks at it – general secretary of Mexico’s National Union of Miners and Metalworkers, or “Los Mineros.” Now with roughly 280,000 members, it’s one of the nation’s largest and most powerful labor organizations. The Mexican government insists it’s also one of the most corrupt. That might not be saying much in light of the standards his accusers have set over the years, but they are convinced the Oxford-educated Gomez Urrutia is a crook all the same. The problem is that he’s been living in exile with his wife in Vancouver, British Columbia since 2006. And he’s not planning on leaving.
On December 30, the Mexican government formally submitted a request … Read More ➡
So you think we’ve got labor problems here in the U.S.? South of the border, the miners’ union is on the brink of a civil war – and possibly a showdown with the Mexican government. On Tuesday, March 7, more than 20,000 workers belonging to the National Miners and Metal Workers Union marched through downtown Mexico City, protesting the government’s decision to oust the union’s general secretary, Napoleon Gomez Urrutia. The 250,000-member union already had staged a two-day strike in support of Urrutia, currently under government investigation for corruption. The strike, which shut down most of the nation’s coal, steel, copper, zinc and silver mines, comes in the wake of a major mining disaster and accusations of massive corruption.
For now, the union has a new leader, Elias Morales. At least some people say he’s the leader. Mexican officials are citing documents filed by pro-Morales members of the union’s oversight … Read More ➡