Amid Labor Day's parades and picnics, union bosses will bellow today about workers' rights and the alleged greed of management, especially inside Big Business. Such class-warfare sloganeering would be easier to stomach if Big Labor were internally consistent. Instead, when their own workers channel Norma Rae and demand better wages and benefits, labor leaders imitate union-busting robber barons.
"I was fired for trying to start a union at the UFT," said a stunned Jim Callaghan. For 13 years, Mr. Callaghan penned speeches and newsletter articles for New York's United Federation of Teachers. He told the New York Post that when managers sacked one of his colleagues without cause, he decided to organize the UFT's 12 in-store nonunion writers.
His employers were not amused. About two months after Mr. Callaghan announced his plans, he was jettisoned on Aug. 12 and given 30 minutes to clear his desk. When he lingered, union bosses got six uniformed police officers to eject him.
The UFT claims Mr. Callaghan had disciplinary problems. Even if that's true, compare Mr. Callaghan's instant dismissal to the years it can take to fire failed teachers. Even those accused of groping children have become virtually permanent fixtures in union-protected "rubber rooms," where they receive salaries, read newspapers and even run businesses while their cases inch through administrative hoops.
International Brotherhood of Teamsters President James P. Hoffa resembles a stingy chief executive in a July 2009 letter to his local officers. Mr. Hoffa and Secretary-Treasurer C. Thomas Keegel wrote that the union for workers at IBT headquarters "refuses to acknowledge the current economic conditions and their impact on per capita revenues at the IBT." Mr. Hoffa and Mr. Keegel counsel "prudent belt-tightening" and conclude: "We must make contingency plans to operate in the event of a labor dispute."
So, an organization's president and treasurer decry falling revenues, urge belt-tightening and operate during a strike. Isn't this why Big Labor got started?
"We've got to downsize," a United Auto Workers source said in December. As its membership shrank from about 500,000 in 2008 to 431,000 in 2009, the car-industry union fired 120 of its own staffers "to balance its budget," the Detroit News noted. More amazing, after UAW personnel voted down their management's austere contract proposal, union bosses imposed it on remaining staffers anyway. The UAW's work force suffered reduced retiree benefits and, for each laborer, the choice of either a two-week unpaid furlough or no matching 401(k) contribution for 2010.
"Justice for all, not justice for some," several dozen members of the Service Employees International Union chanted in March as they picketed their own union's headquarters. The union axed about 75 internal employees. "We're in the middle of realignment," SEIU spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette told Associated Press. Malcolm Harris was unimpressed. The president of the Union of Union Representatives, which bargains for 210 SEIU organizers and staffers nationwide, said, "This union is supposed to be at the forefront of the progressive movement, but it can't seem to follow its own ideology."
Private companies often complain that union labor is too expensive. The Teamsters agree. When they constructed their 16,246-square-foot union hall in Houston, they didn't use union workers because they were too costly. "There are serious solidarity issues here," moaned Richard Shaw of the Harris County AFL-CIO to the Houston Chronicle.
Not even Big Labor's most basic activity - picketing - escapes union hypocrisy. Mirroring an M.C. Escher engraving, some unions hire nonunion members to protest employers for not hiring union members.
The Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters, for instance, has paid the minimum wage to nonunion protesters to slam Washington, D.C.'s McPherson Building for renovating with nonunion carpenters. How do these "activists for rent" regard this cause?
"I could care less," unemployed bike courier Billy Raye said in the July 16 Wall Street Journal. "I am being paid to march around and sound off."
This Labor Day, union bosses should skip the hypocritical speeches and go nap on the beach.
Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with Stanford's Hoover Institution.
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