The year of the union?
Last February Franklin Center posted an article highlighting Watchdog.org’s coverage of organized labor’s political shenanigans. With reports of illegal activity allegedly perpetrated by union workers, and with organized labor gearing up for massive spending in the coming mid-term elections, we wondered whether 2014 would be the “year of the union” even though membership has been on the decline. Since then, subsequent investigations by Watchdog.org reporters show that in many ways the answer is yes – this has been a big year for unions.
Watchdog.org reporter Jason Hart recently published a “Meet the Bosses” list of America’s 100 highest-paid union officers and employees. In all, he found that they received a total $54.8 million in direct compensation, taken from employees last year. If you kept going down the list of top earning union officers and employees, you’d find that 472 of them were paid more than $250,000 in 2013.
For many Americans, such payouts fly in the face of the “solidarity” rhetoric that union leaders frequently use. As Hart reported in a subsequent story, for example, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten earned $543,150 last year. Yet the AFT released a statement in Weingarten’s name that stated “We can create a nation fueled by democracy, justice and opportunity for all, instead of for the very few.”
“In unity,” it concluded.
What is organized labor up to in your state?
Other Watchdog.org reporters have since helped localize the story in their states. In Montana, Dustin Hurst found that the head of the thinly populated state’s largest labor union earned $125,995 in total compensation in 2013. That’s puts him in the top 10 percent of Montana’s wage earners – closer to the “one percent” than the working class.
Meanwhile, Watchdog.org reporter Arthur Kane found that big money flows to the top brass of an Oklahoma-based plumbers and pipe welders union. A dozen of their top officials, in fact, made more than $200,000 last year. As one of Kane’s sources noted, that’s lot of money for a local union.
In Hart’s home state of Ohio, he found that 413 union leaders in the state were paid more than $100,000 last year. And of those, 75 were paid at least $150,000 — 25 more than the previous year — and there were 16 paid more than $200,000. Topping that statewide list were the leaders of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 75, whose motto is: “A voice for working America.”
What do they have to say for themselves?
So far, responses from top officials cited in the story have been underwhelming.
“Union officials seem to find it easier to ignore revelations about their pay,” Hart said. “Unfortunately, because everyone has other things on their minds, many union members rely on their union for information about politics and the role Big Labor plays in policy.”
Hart has found that more generally speaking, union advocates respond to $250,000-plus union boss salaries with complaints about CEOs, who often make many times that amount. However, he notes, the critical difference between CEOs and labor bosses is that CEOs don’t take their money from workers by force.
Wait, where’s the traditional media?
Hart’s “Meet the Bosses” story can serve as a template for reporters and even citizen journalists who want to expose organized labor’s influence and hypocrisy in their state. Surprisingly, it is not difficult to find this information from the Department of Labor. Hart suggests that citizens in particular refer to the DOL’s Bureau of Labor-Management Standards for union annual reports that contain officer and employee pay as well as all sorts of other interesting information.
Watchdog.org reporters have been owning this beat in their states, but if stories about union leader pay conflicting with their “solidarity” rhetoric are not difficult to unearth, why the dearth of media coverage from traditional outlets?
“I think part of it is access,” said Hart, “reporters know they’re not likely to get quotes from union leaders whose six-figure salaries they’ve drawn attention to.”
Where is it going from here?
While 2014 may be the year of the paycheck for labor leaders, it does not necessarily bode well for their future. Momentum from worker freedom laws like the ones passed in Indiana and Michigan — and in Wisconsin for most public-sector workers — is poised to spill into more states over the next several years. The discrepancies between labor leaders and the working class, and their exposure to the public, can only speed up the process.
“I would expect this trend to accelerate if more Americans could see the clash between what union bosses pay themselves and what they claim to stand for,” said Hart.
“Here in Ohio the NEA affiliate has paid ever-higher salaries to officers and employees even as membership has dropped from over 130,000 to under 120,000,” Hart adds. “I would expect that to be true nationally.”