Union Bosses: Are They Con Men?

The definition of a con man is “a dishonest person who uses clever means to cheat others out of something of value.” Nowadays, a fitting synonym for “con man” may very well be “union boss.”

The good news: con men get caught.

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled against union bosses in Knox v. Service Employees Int’l Union, Local 1000. The court explained the basis for the case:

In June 2005, respondent, a public-sector union (SEIU), sent to California employees its annual Hudson notice, setting and capping monthly dues and estimating that 56.35% of its total expenditures in the coming year would be chargeable expenses. A nonmember had 30 days to object to full payment of dues but would still have to pay the chargeable portion.

After this 30 day opt-out period, however, the SEIU imposed an additional surcharge to fund its political activism surrounding the 2006 election. This left non-members powerless, and many were forced to fund political positions with which they did not agree. Like con men, SEIU was cleverly circumventing the law in order to cheat non-union members of their first amendment rights.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court dealt a huge blow to unions looking to take advantage of non-union members. Now unions must allow workers to opt-in to special short-term assessments for political advocacy, rather than opting out. Additionally, employees can no longer be charged with “interim assessments.”

Sadly, SEIU is not the only union using tactics typically reserved for con men.

An Alamogordo public defender filed a complaint with the New Mexico Public Employee Labor Relations Board against the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) New Mexico Council 18 on June 26 for similar reasons. Earlier this year, Nancy Fleming began receiving delinquency notices from a collection agency for failure to make union payments since 2006. The catch – she was not aware that she was even represented by a union.

The worker was never informed by the AFSCME of representation and she was never asked if she wanted to be a member or pay union dues to the union.

New Mexico is not a right-to-work state, which means non-union members must still pay some union dues to keep their jobs. However, not all jobs in New Mexico are unionized and federal law requires union officials to inform all workers about where their union dues are being spent.

In other words, the AFSCME should have informed Nancy Fleming of two things:

  1. Where her union dues were being spent; and
  2. As a prerequisite to the first point, that she was represented by a union.

AFSCME did neither. Similar to SEIU, AFSCME decided to circumvent the law and take advantage of workers in hopes of a larger paycheck.

There is a solution to the problem, however. Both of these cases involved non-union (or uninformed) members in forced unionism states. If California and New Mexico were to follow the lead of 23 other states that have already instituted Right-to-Work provisions, unions such as SEIU and AFSCME would need to think of more innovative ways of filling their coffers.