Chattanooga Mayor Berke Delivers City Employees to SEIU

In today’s Chattanooga Times Free Press, Matt Patterson, executive director at the Center for Worker Freedom, draws attention to the behind the scenes deal between SEIU and Chattanooga, Tennessee, Mayor Andy Berke (a former union lawyer).

Patterson notes, “On Feb. 12, while the world breathlessly watched the voting begin over UAW representation at Volkswagen, Mayor Berke quietly signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local 205.”

Whereas the UAW’s attempt to organize Volkswagen workers without a secret-ballot election failed, Mayor Berke’s memorandum with SEIU succeeded in organizing city workers without an election. The deal authorized the SEIU as the union representative of all general employees of the City of Chattanooga despite “no voting by any city employees to either accept or deny the union’s presence.”

Besides the fact that employees did not vote for union representation, under Tennessee law, municipalities and labor unions may not come to terms on any enforceable agreement. But as Patterson reports, “The Mayor’s office did not return calls inquiring about the legality and integrity of this deal.”

While the legitimacy of the memorandum is in question, there is no doubt that the agreement awards SEIU with numerous privileges beyond the union gaining representation over city employees without having to win an election.

Patterson documents the privileges granted to SEIU in his article:

The Berke/SEIU agreement promises, among other things, to allow the union to hold meetings on city property (Article 7). In addition, Article 8.1 promises that the city will make no “changes to … personnel policies without first providing notice to the union.” (The agreement can be read in its entirety at

But the most egregious supplication to the union comes in Article 11, which provides 600 hours of “release time,” allowing union officials to do union work — including attending union conventions and taking union training classes — while being paid by Chattanooga taxpayers.

As I have noted in previous blog posts, union release time is a wasteful subsidy to government unions. Fortunately, most state constitutions contain a provision that prohibits government handouts to private entities like labor unions. The little-used constitutional provision is known as the “gift clause.”

Tennessee’s gift clause forbids such subsidies to private interests in Article II, Sec. 31: “The credit of this state shall not be hereafter loaned or given to or in aid of any person, association, company, corporation or municipality.”

Tennessee’s gift clause was designed to prohibit state and local governments’ ability to spend tax dollars in aid of private interests. But until fed-up taxpayers start to utilize their state’s gift clause, “politicians like Berke continue to shower their union buddies with public favors.”