Union members deserve say in how dues are spent on political purposes

With unemployment at 8.3 percent nationally – 12 percent in Nevada – many businesses and individuals are tightening their belts and doing more with less.

That’s not the case for Big Labor.

While employees are struggling and working hard to make ends meet, labor leaders are living high on the hog – on union member dues! AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and his union cronies are doing quite well for themselves.

Laborers International Union of North America Local 872, in Las Vegas, spent more than $105,000 on events and catering, and another $174,442 on "logowear" in 2011. On the payroll, at least 11 officials bring home healthy six-figure salaries.

Unfortunately, the union’s bloated salary and benefit packages just weren’t enough for some greedy union officials. In April, a former cashier for LIUNA Local 872 pleaded guilty to 21 counts of embezzlement and three counts of falsifying union records. The cashier was charged with embezzling approximately $167,500. 

But flagrant, irresponsible spending by union leaders doesn’t just stop at the casino doors. As unions have become more active in politics, labor leaders are shelling out big bucks to help elect politicians  whom many of their members oppose.

In 2010, more than 93 percent of union political support went to Democrats, even though, according to exit polls, 42 percent of union households voted Republican. Also in 2010, the AFL–CIO devoted one-sixth of its national budget to politics and lobbying, even though 60 percent of union members object to their dues being spent in that manner. Numbers like this suggest there’s a fundamental disconnect between union leaders and their members.

In Nevada, unions spent a total of $4 million – 99.8 percent of their total political spending – to support Democrats in 2010. It’s safe to say that dynamic won’t change much in 2012.

Fortunately, Nevadans can find hope in the Employee Rights Act, sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C. It extends guarantees to union members in the private sector on paycheck protection, ensuring they have a say in whether their dues money is spent for political purposes.

While workers have the ability to recover dues spent for political purposes, unions often make it very difficult to exercise this right. Unions implement bureaucratic obstacles, such as accepting such requests only 30 days of the year, and often refusing to honor those requests unless workers file federal charges. It’s no surprise that, according to a recent poll conducted by ORC International, the act’s paycheck provision commands the support of nearly 80 percent of union households.

Even with all that money, Las Vegas unions are looking to draft more members to use as cash cows. For the past two years, the Culinary union has been attempting to organize 12,000 workers at Station Casinos. The union is employing a method known as "card check," which bypasses the traditional secret ballot union election.

According to data from the National Labor Relations Board, in 2009, 38 percent of all union recognitions bypassed secret ballot elections and instead used so-called "card check" to unionize employees. With "card check," paid union organizers seek to pressure workers to sign cards saying that they support union representation and pressure employers to accept these cards as a valid "yes" vote.

The Employee Rights Act ensures that employers and union organizers cannot pressure employees or employers in a union certification election.

Voters are getting wise to the role of union leadership in holding back our economy and pulling workers’ purse strings. Employees are in growing agreement that today’s unions are a prohibitively bad investment. 

Unionized employees don’t deserve to have their hard-earned pay go to expenditures that they don’t support. To turn the corner once and for all, power must be put back in the hands of employees – where it belongs.

Rick Berman is executive director of the Center for Union Facts (


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