Commentary Magazine


The Cobbler’s Children

If there is a more problematic union around today than the Service Employees International Union, I would rather not hear from it.

Over the years, the union has spent a great deal of money on outside vendors and contractors that — by some astonishing coincidence — are owned by close family members of the organization.

During the 2008 campaign, they vowed to spend pretty much whatever it would take to get Barack Obama and other Democrats elected — and it appeared that their definition of “whatever it takes” translated into about  $46,000,000.

A good chunk of that money came from contributions to the union’s PAC — whose coffers were stuffed by a truly unique fund-raising technique: according to a recent amendment to the SEIU’s constitution, each chapter has to contribute at least $6.00 per member to the PAC or risk a fine  of $1.50 per dollar of shortfall.

A clever move, only slightly impaired by the fact that it’s illegal: under federal law, PAC contributions must be entirely voluntary. You can’t demand people give to your PAC — unless, apparently, you’re a union.

The latest scandal involving the SEIU is more entertaining than outrageous, but it illustrates its essential nature quite well:  it’s trying to lay off 75 of its employees, but they’ve been hit with — of all things — a union grievance.

It would be a clear conflict of interest for the SEIU to represent its own employees, and hypocritical to deny them union representation, so there is the Union of Union Representatives (whose own employees, I presume, belong to yet another union). And the UUR has filed unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

The complaints are so familiar, one wonders if the UUR simply took SEIU-filed grievances and cut and pasted them: improper notice before layoffs, bringing in temps to replace employees, banning union activities, and reclassifying workers to reduce those qualified for union membership.

This sort of hypocrisy is nothing new for unions.  A couple years ago, another union — the United Food and Commercial Workers — picketed a Wal-Mart in Las Vegas to get the workers inside unionized. However, the union didn’t send its members, it hired temp workers to do the picketing — temps who were paid less and had suffered conditions than the poor, oppressed folks inside.

As the old saying goes, it’s the cobbler’s children who go barefoot.

There was a time when labor unions served a truly valuable service for workers. Those days have, by and large, passed, and today’s union leaders are far more wrapped up in lining their own pockets and promoting their own political agendas.

Their efforts to get Barack Obama and other Democrats elected might help them postpone their demise, but it certainly won’t help them reform..