Helping the Poor — or helping The Mob?

Steven Miller

Even most union households disapprove of unions, a Harris poll found last year.

It’s long been known that most working adults rate unions negatively. That figure’s now at 69 percent, according to this August 2005 survey.

But the actual negativity of union members themselves on unions—up to 61 percent now—is something that never makes the news. Yet, of all people, it’s rank-and-file union folks who have the greatest first-hand, practical experience of the realities of “organized labor.”

The Harris survey didn’t ask union members why they were so negative — though big majorities of union members did say that unions are “too involved in political activities” and too “concerned with fighting change.”

It was a Zogby poll earlier that year got nearer the heart of the matter. It asked union members to choose between two statements, depending on which statement came closer to their own views:

Statement A: “Government ought to do more to protect union members from corrupt union officials. Unions should be required to give detailed reporting of union finances to discourage abuse.”

Statement B: “There are already laws on the books to deal with corruption. Giving detailed financial reports would be overly burdensome on unions.”

Statement A was selected by 71 percent, and Statement B was selected by 22 percent. Seven 7 percent were undecided.

Why do union members, by such a large majority, back strict financial disclosure requirements on the union brass who allegedly “represent” them?

Because even initially naïve rank-and-file members soon learn that union-boss corruption is a constant fact of union life. But that’s not all. They also learn that crossing corrupt bosses by trying to make them actually represent the membership means better-than-even odds that you’ll soon be out of your union job.

A remarkable new book looks closely at this “job control” phenomenon, tracing its presence throughout the history of American labor corruption. Solidarity for Sale: How Corruption Destroyed the Labor Movement and Undermined America’s Promise is an effort by a former union business agent turned investigative labor journalist to find the real reasons that American unions continue to stagnate and shrink decade after decade.

His answer? Corruption is all but guaranteed by the legal powers to control workers’ employment that union bosses get from American labor law.

What this produces, writes author Robert Fitch, is hordes of local union-boss fiefdoms across the country—a “kind of protection system based on exclusive jurisdictions, exclusive bargaining, and job control. Those who control the jobs become the bosses; those who want the jobs become their clients.”

Bosses maintain and solidify their personal and union power by passing out union positions and A-list jobs to the most subservient. “Loyalty to the boss,” notes Fitch, “becomes the highest virtue. It’s an ethic of dependence rather than solidarity, one that promotes the most wide-ranging corruption.

“Corruption in turn produces atomization, weakness, demoralization, and apathy, which in turn promote further corruption. Solidarity—united action on behalf of the common good—turns into a slogan that produces only crooked smiles.”

Solidarity for Sale spotlights again and again in American history the natural progression of “job control” unionism into the control of unions by organized crime. Thus, the book is full of cautionary tales highly relevant for Nevada — especially at a time when state union bosses are trying to sneak an amendment into the state Constitution to give themselves immense new governmental powers over all jobs in the state.

Their means for this surreptitious power grab is, of course, the largely unreported paragraph B in the text of the so-called “minimum wage” constitutional amendment passed by unwitting Nevada voters in 2004. If passed again this November, the provision will legalize sub-minimum wages in Nevada companies—when approved by union bosses and written into the union contract.

Fitch spells out how UNITE—the recent merger partner of Culinary Local 226’s parent international union, HERE—has long been notoriously complicit with the Mob in facilitating sub-minimum wages in New York’s garment district. When those locals began losing market share and income due to imports, the Luchese crime family casually moved to a new income stream: selling out union workers.

The “wiseguys could help employers get the lowest wages possible,” writes Fitch. “In UNITE’s New York garment locals, the mob regularly collected bribes from employers who were allowed to pay sub-minimum wages.”

UNITE and HERE both have long Mob-linked histories that have never been purged.

That means Nevada faces real danger in this ballot measure.

Steven Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

Steven Miller

Senior Vice President, Nevada Journal Managing Editor

Steven Miller is Nevada Journal Managing Editor, Emeritus, and has been with the Institute since 1997.

Steven graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Philosophy from Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna). Before joining NPRI, Steven worked as a news reporter in California and Nevada, and a political cartoonist in Nevada, Hawaii and North Carolina. For 10 years he ran a successful commercial illustration studio in New York City, then for five years worked at First Boston Credit Suisse in New York as a technical analyst. After returning to Nevada in 1991, Steven worked as an investigative reporter before joining NPRI.