There can be riches in standing up for the working class: The Boilermakers union president earned $506,000, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars more for travel expenses, while the Laborers union president made $441,000. The Transportation Communications Union leader made $300,000, bumped up to $750,000 with business expenses.
Patrick W. Flynn makes $435,000 a year in his capacity as treasurer of a 13,600-member Teamsters union local, and the $30,000 in business expenses he collects on top of costs associated with carrying out his duties around Mokena, Ill., approach that of a typical worker’s entire salary.
The average union member has no idea how much the leaders make, said Stanley Oubre, a retired Boilermaker in Louisiana — and can hardly relate.
“It sounds like we’re getting robbed,” Mr. Oubre said of the money earned by International Brotherhood of Boilermakers President Newton B. Jones. “I was a boilermaker for 35 years, and oh, my goodness, what we made was pennies” compared with that.
Over the past decade, top union officials’ compensation has risen even though membership has fallen, and the unions have added significantly more employees to their offices.
Joseph V. Senese was paid $591,346 last year for his role in running the National Production Workers Union, based in the golf course-lined Chicago suburbs, which reported 600 members in 2006 and none in 2007, according to union disclosures.
Tax records confirm a pattern of high salaries, with base compensation of $583,000 in 2008, and show that Mr. Senese, in turn, issued hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash loans back to the union.
For decades, the union spent “large sums of money” to provide Mr. Senese with around-the-clock security after his brother and father, also union honchos, survived assassination attempts and federal authorities barred his father from union activity for life, alleging mob ties, according to a 1993 Chicago Tribune article.
“We don’t talk to newspaper reporters. Don’t call back here,” a staffer at the union’s full-time office said last week before hanging up the phone.
John M. Lazzaretto, business manager of Local 152 of the Laborers International Union of North America in Highland Park, Ill., was paid $419,543. The 1,000-member union local counted Mr. Lazzaretto’s son, Michael, as an organizer, and his cousin, Vallie, as secretary, and a Brennan Lazzaretto as janitor.
“A big portion of that final salary was a retirement package. My salary probably averaged about $250,000, which for a business manager, I was probably top three or four. There’s probably three or four people in the Chicago area making more than $300,000. Of course, times have changed; people get rid of the heavy earners,” Mr. Lazzaretto said.
“I was the only trustee left after the feds came in, when the government put a consent decree over the whole international union alleging there was ties to organized crime,” he said. “I came out with a clean bill of health.”
Despite unions’ focus on income equality, the division between the highest-paid and lowest-paid union employees has grown over time, and the rank-and-file workers toiling in factories and construction sites that the union officers represent especially pale in comparison with the top officials tasked with representing them.
In 2000, the bottom quarter of full-time employees at union offices, such as administrative assistants at headquarters, made less than $33,900, while the top quarter made more than $65,400. In 2011, the bottom quarter made $45,000 compared with $89,800 for the top quarter.
Among reports for fiscal 2012 submitted so far, the bottom quarter made $49,700 compared with $103,100 for the top quarter, an analysis of union disclosures by The Washington Times indicated.