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.
Don Loos, a former Department of Labor official who is now an adviser at the National Right to Work Committee, said labor leaders with compensation that is worlds apart from those they are representing make it difficult for them to empathize with life in the trenches.
“Look at SEIU: That’s a union of janitors, and you’ve got people at the top making $500,000 a year, plus a lot of them have their hands in more than one till — they’re making additional money from the pension funds. A lot of these groups were a part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and they really pushed the notion of ‘fat cats,’ but union bosses have always been fat cats,” he said.
Union dues sometimes finance seemingly luxury items for officers.
The Internal Brotherhood of Teamsters held its annual Employee Benefits Program conference in Hawaii in 2010, while in 2008, the American Postal Workers Union sent its secretary-treasurersto Puerto Rico for training.
In 2007, the Teamsters spent $55,000 on gourmet steaks for stewards, while the Ohio Association of Public School Employees held an executive board meeting at Morton’s Steakhouse at a cost of $9,400 in 2008.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has yearly “golf outings,” often at a cost of $30,000. In 2005, the Pennsylvania Public Employees Union paid $15,000 for “education of officers” at Fernwood Resort and Country Club.
Last year, the United Steelworkers spent $1.1 million on catering on top of $1 million for lodging and other costs at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for its annual convention in August, for which 3,000 officials flew out.
In 2009, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union spent $574,000 on “ex[ecutive] board meeting/lodging” at Buena Vista Palace, a Disney World golf resort.
Until recent years, a handful of unions had private jets to ferry officials to meetings in style.
The International Union of Bricklayers, until at least 2011, owned a plane, but “shortly after James Boland became president in February 2010, the international executive board grounded the plane and put it on the market, where it remained for a number of months owing to an excess of similar planes for sale. It was sold in February 2012,” Connie Lambert, the Bricklayers’ communications director, said in an email.
J. Justin Wilson, managing director of the Center for Union Facts, a union-watchdog group, said spending of members’ dues on officers’ perks represented a conflict of interest because “the board of the union has the fiduciary responsibility.”
“There have been more than a few instances of labor leaders living high on the hog at the expense of their members,” he said. Those excesses occur in the corporate world, too, but as nonprofits, “technically they are beholden to the taxpayers. In exchange for not paying taxes, there’s a greater degree of responsibility.”
Even as memberships dropped, union overhead became more bulky, with the number of organizers and other employees working in private-sector union offices rising from 41,000 in 2000 to 47,000 in 2011, after peaking at 51,000 in 2008. Total salaries, adjusted to 2011 dollars, rose from $4.4 billion to $4.7 billion over the past decade.
The Air Line Pilots Association spent more than $36 million on wages in 2011 for 324 staffers, or $617 for each of its 58,874 members.The California Nurses Association has 86,000 members and spent $25 million on 338 staffers, 124 of whom have six-figure incomes.
The United Auto Workers, with 380,000 members, spent $83 million on salaries for 886 employees, 508 of whom made six figures.
Officers of small, little-scrutinized locals were sometimes paid on par with their peers in much bigger organizations.
The Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 52 in Seattle has only 139 members, but its treasurer, David Black, was paid $206,000, and its president, Glen Anderson, made $196,000, according to disclosures.
No union had more members working in the home office, rather than in the factories, than the Steelworkers, which employs 974 people, half at six figures, in its national headquarters. The Steelworkers union has 600,000 members. Yet its president, Leo Gerard, made only $195,000 — meaning officials like Mr. Anderson, Mr. Black and Mr. Lazzaretto made more for running unions a fraction of the size.
Dues and perks
Those salaries are financed largely, of course, by dues paid by members, and the average dues paid to a local by each member rose to $401 in 2011, up from $272 in 2000, or $355 in inflation-adjusted dollars. But some dues were far steeper than others. Boilermakers Local 154 raised its dues from 4 percent to 7 percent of wages over the past five years, for example.
Few national unions pay their leaders more per member than the Longshoremen’s Association, a 43,500-member organization that spends $10 million a year on staff, paying President Harold Daggett $436,600 and Secretary-Treasurer Robert E. Gleason and Vice President Benny Holland Jr. $401,000 each.
They are old hands and long-accustomed to such pay. In 2005, tax records show, Mr. Gleason was making $430,000, Mr. Daggett was making $303,000 as an organizer and Mr. Holland was making $287,000. All estimated that they worked only 20 hours a week.
Many Longshoremen’s Associations deduct 10 percent of workers’ pay, as do many Iron Workers locals. Some chapters of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers deduct up to $4.17 per hour, while locals within the International Union of Elevator Constructors take up to $626 a quarter.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some dues for members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters are as low as one-half of 1 percent, and the figure for some locals of Unite Here, a union of 265,000 hotel, food service, laundry, warehouse and casino workers, is 1 percent.
Some with lower dues managed to decrease the financial burden by cutting overhead.
Tampa, Fla.’s American Postal Workers Local 259 lowered working dues from $38 to $26 per month as the 12,500-member union trimmed staff from 23 to five in the past decade.
Iron Workers Local 44 raised dues from 6 percent to 10 percent, then managed to drop them to 4 percent by “consolidating two offices into one,” business manager Jason Mullins said.
The amount of funding that goes toward representation — activities like negotiating or enforcing contracts — has remained steady at a bit less than one-fifth of unions’ outlays.
But many locals consistently spend far less. The Carpenters Union Local 630, for example, collected $382,000 in dues in 2011 and spent only $170 on representation. At the same time, it spent a quarter-million dollars on “overhead” and “administration.”
Bill Butler, corporate communications executive of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, said a $1 million payout to retiring official Michael J. Sullivan was a one-time thing. “When he retired, he got a lump sum. That was part of a payment he was entitled to, and no one else is going to receive it,” he said.
Other unions justified high salaries for officers by likening them to CEOs of large corporations.
Galen Munroe, a spokesman for the Teamsters union, said it was on the members to take action if they deem salaries too high.
“This is public information, and it’s the members’ prerogative with this information in hand to vote officers in or out,” Mr. Munroe said.