The Service Employees International Union plans to send 25,000 rank-and-file workers on 500 buses to Washington this weekend to protest the tea party movement, Republicans and Fox News. If SEIU members had any sense, they'd be demonstrating at their own bosses' D.C. headquarters. It's the Big Labor Left, not the Tea Party Right, that is flushing rank-and-file union workers' hard-earned dues down the collective toilet in these hard times.
The co-organizer of the so-called "One Nation" protest by a coalition of progressive groups is George Gresham, president of the behemoth SEIU Local 1199 based in New York. (This is the same SEIU affiliate that employed current Obama domestic policy adviser Patrick Gaspard as chief lobbyist for nine years.) Peeved by all the attention that grassroots conservatives and limited government activists have received over the past year, Gresham spearheaded the rally plans earlier this summer to "counter the Tea Party narrative" and reclaim the voice for "working people." Perhaps Gresham should pay more attention to his workers' pensions than to tea party leaders' media appearances.
SEIU Local 1199's Upstate Pension Fund has plunged from 115 percent funded in 1999 to 75 percent funded, and its Greater New York Pension Fund was funded at only 58 percent of its future obligations as of 2007, according to Hudson Institute analyst Diana Furchtgott-Roth. The union fat cats blame Wall Street. But while the pensions of SEIU workers nationwide are in "endangered status," the pensions of SEIU top brass have been protected and remain fully funded.
The D.C.-based Alliance for Worker Freedom, which monitors labor union abuses, reported last year that 13 major local SEIU pension funds are in serious financial jeopardy. Indeed, fewer than one in every 160 union-represented workers is covered by a union pension with required assets. Local 1199 workers -- already subject to wage freezes to salvage their pensions -- might want to know how their leaders were able to pony up $1 million for Haiti earthquake relief in January while their retirement funds wither on the vine.
SEIU leaders have shown a special talent for squandering their workers' dues. They poured $10 million down the drain in Arkansas on a failed bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln. They spent $10 million on a nasty lawsuit against a competing union in California. They've burned through union dues to transport SEIU radicals to bully bank execs and their families at their private homes and to bus workers to Arizona to protest crackdowns on illegal aliens, who depress the wages of law-abiding working-class Americans.
Under former Purple Army Chief Andy Stern, the union's liabilities skyrocketed from $7.6 million to nearly $121 million. Stern burned through $61 million to put Barack Obama and the Democratic ruling majority in place. And before abruptly stepping down in April, he installed a cadre of labor management stooges embroiled in financial scandals across the country.
One of them, Stern protege and former SEIU national Vice President Tyrone Freeman, remains under FBI investigation for siphoning off hundreds of thousands of dollars in dues money for his personal enrichment and pleasure. The Los Angeles Times uncovered schemes that ranged from piping $600,000 in union contracts to his wife's video production and entertainment ventures to paying his mother-in-law $8,000 a month to babysit his daughter and other union employees' children to footing a $13,000 bill for membership at a Beverly Hills cigar club.
Another Stern underling, former SEIU leader Alejandro Stephens, is under FBI investigation, the LA Times reported this week, for $150,000 in consulting fees paid "under a confidential agreement" signed by Stern. The feds allege the money funded a no-show job for Stephens. While probing the smelly deal, the feds also stumbled upon a cozy agreement by SEIU executives to shell out $80,000 to promote a book Stern wrote in 2006. The SEIU may not have been looking after rank-and-file workers, but Stern made sure the SEIU was looking after him.
Now, Stern's profligate successors will steer an estimated $44 million in union worker dues into Democratic coffers this November -- all in the name of defeating right-wing enemies of the working people. Perhaps it's time for rank-and-file workers to stage a tea party of their own.