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At the 250-member United Industrial & Service Employees Union, four of the seven officials in 2011, including the president, vice president and trustee, were named Romero. At the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Local 1970, the president, treasurer and secretary were all named Lipscomb.

About 1 in 5 unions had multiple officials with the same last name in the most recent year, according to a Washington Times analysis of federal union disclosures. Unions had a median roster of eight officials, making it easy for one family to have significant control.

Low turnover

When officers aren’t already related, they often become a sort of family, re-elected time after time, or shuffling top positions among themselves each election. Three-quarters of unions that had elections in 2010 re-elected most of their officers, The Times’ analysis showed. Ten percent of unions re-elected 9 of 10 officers.

“When an outgoing boss leaves, they make an interim appointment of their own successors. After that, they have a re-election rate that would make an incumbent congressman blush. Nobody is ever stupid enough to run against them,” the Laborers official said.

A recent American Postal Workers Union national president, for example, was elected seven times to three-year terms.

Across the country, 27 percent of union officers in 2003 were still in office in 2011. In 1 in 5 unions, at least half of the elected officers remained the same over the course of those eight years.

But imperial tenure is far more common, and has a greater impact, at the national headquarters that control the bulk of union finances.

Two-thirds of national headquarters retained at least half of their officers in the most recent election, The Times analysis shows. For example, the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers returned 11 of 12 officers in 2008, and the American Federation of Teachers re-elected 35 of its 45 officers in 2010.

At the Laborers’ International Union of North America national headquarters, 11 of 16 current officers have been running the union since at least 2003. At the United Brotherhood of Carpenters union, it’s 6 of 8, with only two district vice presidents departing. At the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union, only six board members and one vice president among the union’s 24 officials left over the eight years.

Staying power

Union posts increasingly have become long-term gigs over the years, with the average union re-electing 56 percent of its officers in elections held in 2010, up from 49 percent in elections in 2001. And the longer they stay on the job, the more they make.

John T. Niccollai, president of the 17,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers Local 464A in Little Falls, N.J., since 1982, was paid $527,973, while Ramon Rando, who has been secretary-treasurer since 1987, was paid $464,493.

At the Laborers 83, a $2.9 million union with 634 members in Portsmouth, Ohio, Gary Coleman made $163,000 as secretary-treasurer with his brother Joe as auditor. The elected officers hired Gary’s daughter Lindy to oversee the apprenticeship program.

“If I don’t represent my people, they can vote me out. The family stuff, they may not see that as a factor, if everyone’s doing their job,” Gary Coleman said.

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