- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 3, 2006

Labor Day, this country’s mislabeled national work stoppage, inspires union bosses to march in parades honoring America’s employees. Union members should use this occasion to learn where union chiefs spend their hard-earned dues.

Just as transparency rules now obligate corporations to open their books, the Bush administration insists unions more thoroughly disclose expenditures. This mainly comes from dues forcibly collected from rank-and-file members.

The Center for Union Facts (UnionFacts.com) has analyzed the Labor Department’s “LM-2” records for fiscal 2005 and organized them in a user-friendly database. It details Big Labor’s twin commitments to liberalism and luxury.

During the 2004 elections, the Center for Responsive Politics (OpenSecrets.org) reports, unions spent at least $61,484,080 in political contributions — 87 percent to Democrats, 13 percent to Republicans. That year, a CNN exit poll found, 61 percent of union members voted for Democrat John Kerry, while 38 percent supported Republican George W. Bush.

Labor often backs very liberal causes. The National Education Association (NEA) contributed $1,210,000 to progressive groups, including the Fund to Protect Social Security ($250,000), People for the American Way ($51,000) and the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network ($5,000). Homosexual, straight or betwixt, it would not be immediately evident to anyone how any of this helps instructors teach kids to read and write. If this money seems Mickey Mouse, just wait.

Seventeen unions spent $1,322,378 at various Disney resorts. The NEA paid $62,036 for events at various Disney properties. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees shelled out $100,999 for its Disneyland convention. And the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) dropped $125,467 on conferences at Disneyland and Disneyworld.

Even beyond Disney’s reach, union honchos seem to inhabit a permanent Magic Kingdom. For them, the good life includes their salaries, the seas and the skies.

One hundred top union executives made at least $280,000 annually, not counting benefits. And 93 percent are men. NEA President Reg Weaver made $438,920, plus benefits. At his headquarters, 335 officers and employees scored $100,000 or more, averaging $140,977, before benefits. The typical teacher makes $47,808, NEA calculates.

Unions floated $109,286 on yachts. The NEA spent $11,797 to charter a yacht from a Hollywood, Fla., company. The Carpenters and Joiners paid the Montauk Yacht Club $27,099, while the International Association of Machinists (IAM) gave World Yacht $70,390 for a national conference.

Common workers ride in cramped airline cabins. The union bosses’ slogan seems to be: “Let them fly coach.”

While the UAW spent $5,386 for luggage tags and $55,168 on briefcases, even more fun ensued once captains of labor became airborne.

The Teamsters spent $24,958 for Cincinnati-based Executive Jet Management. According to its Web site, it offers “in-flight catering, from wine and cheese to gourmet meals” plus “ground transportation, including limos.” Meanwhile, the IAM appropriated $256,749 to lease, insure, and maintain a Lear Jet.

Labor czars love plowing their members’ money into gambling dens, specifically $1,933,534 in expenditures for events and parties at the Aladdin, Foxwoods, MGM Grand and other hotel-casinos. The Teamsters left at least $312,318 at various betting parlors, including $287,929 at Bally’s Las Vegas.

Last February, the AFL-CIO executive council gathered at San Diego’s Hotel Del Coronado, a beautiful, Victorian, sun-splashed landmark. Its limited-view rooms start at $415 nightly, exclusive of food, bar and spa charges. But the Del Coronado is not Carpenters Local 1506’s favorite place. In a handbill featuring a rat devouring the U.S. flag, the union denounced the resort “for Desecration of the American Way of Life” for hiring a nonunion contractor. So, AFL-CIO leaders shrugged. They crossed the Carpenters’ picket line and enjoyed their beachside retreat. This is a matter of social justice.

If workers volunteer their money to underwrite this extravagance, so what? However, mandatory dues are extracted from employees who must join unions as a condition of employment. Using dues to improve wages, benefits and safety is one thing. Shaking down employees so union leaders can live like royalty recalls the material conditions that made Karl Marx’s blood boil.

As union members savor the late-summer sun this Labor Day, they should ask themselves if their well-merited dollars don’t belong in their own pockets rather than in those of America’s insatiable union bosses.

Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.

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