Commentary

As Members’ Job Losses Soar, Union Bosses Focus on Coerced Dues Cash Flow

By Stan Greer | April 15, 2020 | 1:20pm EDT
A man proffers dollar bills. (Photo credit: Getty/Yuri Cortez/AFP)
A man proffers dollar bills. (Photo credit: Getty/Yuri Cortez/AFP)

Donald “D” Taylor, the top boss of Unite Here, a hospitality union with 307,000 coerced members and forced fee payers and annual revenue of roughly $100 million, not including funds retained by its subsidiaries, openly admits that the rank and file of his organization have been economically devastated as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic and the extraordinary economic shutdowns imposed by public officials to combat it.

In an April 14 Washington Post article, reporter Jonathan O’Connell cited Taylor’s assessment that 95 percent of Unite Here-“represented” employees are out of work, compared to just under half of all employees in the hospitality industry.

Most employees under Unite Here control “work in hotels, airports and casinos – all businesses that have been hammered by closures and a precipitous drop in demand.”

Fortunately, many hospitality-industry employers are, even as they endure enormous financial hits themselves, going the extra mile to help their front-line employees make it through these difficult times. For example, as a laid-off Unite Here Local 11 member told Collin Anderson of the Washington Free Beacon, the California hotel where he works has extended the health insurance coverage of its idled employees, including his own, through September.

But incredibly, the union honchos who head Local 11, which wields monopoly-bargaining power over more than 30,000 hotel workers in southern California and Arizona, are allegedly threatening unemployed members with the loss of their health insurance! Unless, that is, they continue forking over union dues, by scraping up whatever money they can find now that they are going without a paycheck.

In a March 27 Free Beacon article, Anderson reported that, a few days earlier, Local 11 bosses had sent out text messages to members, badgering them about how “critical” it is that they “keep paying [their] dues,” even when they are out of work.

The Local 11 member who spoke to Anderson finds such Big Labor hectoring offensive at a time like this: “It’s kind of pathetic the way they’re doing things....It sounds to me like all they want is the money, and that’s it. They don’t care about their employees.”

According to the Local 11 member, the union agent with whom he spoke even insinuated Local 11 could and would get his health insurance cut off if he didn’t continue bankrolling the union: “‘You’ll be covered until September.  Well, as long as you keep paying your union dues.’” 

Judging simply by the Free Beacon’s account, such a Big Labor intimidation tactic might be illegal. The fact is, in non-Right to Work states like California as well as in Right to Work states like Arizona, federal law bars both businesses and union bosses from depriving any employee of any benefits provided by the company simply because the employee refuses to become a full member of the union in the first place or resigns from it. 

Even if it is the case that member-provided Local 11 treasury money is in some way helping cover the cost of the health insurance, and union officers (who didn’t respond to Anderson’s request for a comment) really do have the prerogative to threaten nonmembers with the loss of their health insurance coverage at this time, it’s an awfully callous thing to do right after an economy-halting pandemic hit the U.S.

At a time when utilities, banks, and the IRS (!) are cutting slack for hard-pressed Americans across the country who can’t pay what they owe at this time, Unite Here union bosses -- while taking pay cuts themselves -- are also reportedly telling struggling, out-of-work hotel employees in California they will face horrible consequences if they fall behind in their forced-dues payments. 

As shocking as they are, allegations about Unite Here Local 11 shakedowns of laid-off employees aren’t surprising, because the history of compulsory unionism in America is rife with documented examples of union bosses who, in order to line their own pockets, liethreaten, and demonstrate a total lack of compassion towards the workers they claim to represent.

Stan Greer is the National Institute for Labor Relations Research’s senior research associate.

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