City Unions Race to Recruit Members After High Court Ruling

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling yesterday in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 — which overturned a 41-year-old ruling that nonunion government workers in unionized workplaces have to pay fees to help cover the costs of union activities they benefit from — was a major blow to labor unions, and the latest in a string of far-right rulings since Justice Neil Gorsuch was appointed by Donald Trump. But leaders of New York City public-sector unions say that being required to represent nonmembers for nothing won’t hurt them as much as it was intended to, because they’ve been preparing for it by signing up as many members as possible.

“For the past three years, we’ve been preparing our members for this day,” says Lester Crockett, president of Civil Service Employees Association Region 2, which covers the New York City metropolitan area. The 300,000-member union has eight workers in its Albany headquarters taking phone calls from workers who want to stay, quit, or are borderline, he adds.

AFSCME District Council 37 executive director Henry Garrido told a rally at City Hall hours after the Janus decision that his union represented 28,000 nonmembers just three years ago. Today, he said, there are less than 7,000.

“We knew this was coming,” says Gloria Middleton, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1180, which represents about 8,600 city administrators. Middleton says 94 percent of these administrators are now full union members; as for the others, she says, “we let them know what they will be losing if they don’t join”: They can’t vote in union elections or to ratify contracts, aren’t eligible for union-funded education programs, and, under a state law that went into effect April 1, the union no longer has to represent them in disciplinary proceedings.

Ever since the Supreme Court’s 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education ruling, public-sector unions have been unable to collect dues from nonunion workers to cover explicitly political activities such as campaign contributions. But they can charge separate “agency fees” that go toward such things as the costs of collective bargaining and representation in grievance procedures, which cover all employees, union members or otherwise.

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The lawsuit ruled on yesterday was filed by Illinois state employee Mark Janus with the backing of several anti-union organizations. They have argued that all activity by public-sector unions is objectively political, because it affects public spending and policies. The court upheld Janus’s claim that his free-speech rights were violated because he was forced to contribute about $45 a month to an organization that opposed slashing his pension and those of his fellow workers.

That court challenge was directly aimed at undermining public-sector unions, which now account for about half of the nation’s union members. In New York State, the most heavily unionized state in the country, about two-thirds of public-sector workers are members, compared with about 15 percent in the private sector, according to the state comptroller’s office. In 2016, according to a City University of New York study, the proportion of agency-fee payers in major city unions ranged from 4.8 percent of membership in the United Federation of Teachers to 16.5 percent in DC 37, which currently represents 125,000 city workers.

The Janus case was part of a concerted campaign to chip away at workers’ rights and unions’ power through litigation and legislation, much like the anti-abortion movement’s tactics of backing measures such as parental-consent laws, compulsory waiting periods, and intentionally burdensome safety-code regulations.

Over the last eight years, six states — Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, and, tentatively, Missouri — have enacted so-called right-to-work laws (called “right to work for less” by union supporters), which, like the Janus decision, allow workers to refuse to pay fees to the unions that represent them. Others have repealed “prevailing wage laws” that set floors for wages on public construction projects, and placed severe restrictions on public workers’ collective bargaining. In Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker pushed through a 2011 state law prohibiting public-sector unions from bargaining over anything but wage increases that don’t exceed the rate of inflation, the share of government workers who are union members fell from 50.3 percent in 2011 to 22.7 percent in 2016.

Several states, including Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, and Alabama, have prohibited local governments from setting minimum wages higher than the state’s. And Iowa in 2017 passed a law that required public-sector unions to seek recertification every time their contract expired — and to win, they had to get a majority of all workers in the bargaining unit, not just the ones who actually voted. (In recertification votes last October, Iowa unions won almost 98 percent of the vote, but lost 32 out of 468 bargaining units because of the hyper-majority mandate.)

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These measures, associated litigation, and anti-union propaganda campaigns have been backed by a network of far-right financiers, most notoriously the Koch brothers, but also local “little Koch brothers” such as David Humphreys and Rex Sinquefield in Missouri, packing-materials manufacturer Richard Uihlein in Illinois, and Betsy and Dick DeVos in Michigan.

At the court’s oral arguments in February, virtually all of the roughly 100 demonstrators supporting Mark Janus outside came from the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and the much lesser-known State Policy Network, a nationwide alliance of 64 state-based think tanks. In a 2016 fundraising letter, the network said that cutting off “big government” unions’ income from dues and fees would deliver the “mortal blow” that would permanently break the left’s “stranglehold on our society.” The Illinois Policy Institute, its Chicago-based affiliate, represented Janus through its litigation branch.

“People like the Koch brothers and these big billionaires, if they can do anything to cause us to have less strength, they’ll do it with a smile on their face,” says the CSEA’s Crockett.

The Janus decision may also open the door to future litigation chipping away at union rights, such as that of being workers’ sole representative in negotiations over pay, benefits, and working conditions. “Designating a union as the employees’ exclusive representative substantially restricts the rights of individual employees,” Justice Alito wrote, noting that it prevents them from negotiating with their employer on their own.

While that comment is legally dicta, or not a binding part of the decision, it is the same tactic Alito used a similar tactic in his opinion in the 2014 Harris v. Quinn case — a 5-4 decision that exempted Medicaid-paid home healthcare workers from agency fees on the grounds that they were only “partial public employees” — to signal that he would welcome a challenge to Abood. In that dicta, he called the Abood precedent “questionable on several grounds,” arguing that bargaining to increase public workers’ pensions, for example, was inherently political activity.

In the meantime, union leaders are in the position of having to convince workers that they’re better off paying dues to become union members even though they’d reap the benefits of collective bargaining and grievance procedures whether or not they join. That’s left the leaders, paradoxically, to echo arguments made by anti-union forces that having dues be voluntary will compel unions to do a better job of reaching workers. “This is something we should have always been doing,” says Crockett. “We got too comfortable with money coming in automatically. We stopped talking to our members.”

“We’re in for a fight, but it’s a fight we can win,” insists Middleton. Some CWA locals in right-to-work states have 95 percent union membership among the workers they represent, she adds. “When they understand what unions are about, they join.”


Columbia Grad Student Strike Could Hinge on Trump Ruling

The scene that unfolded yesterday on the campus of Columbia University has become a familiar one across the country: teachers leaving their jobs to grab protest signs and join a picket line. The five-hour event — which turned into a rally, then a march, before forming back into a picket line that cut through the center of campus — marked the first day of a planned weeklong strike by more than 1,000 of the university’s graduate students, who are seeking recognition as employees with collective bargaining rights.

“The university has been pretty consistent with their opinion that we’re not workers,” said Rosalie Ray, a Ph.D. student in urban planning who is currently a teaching assistant for one urban planning studio and part of the union bargaining committee. She spoke loudly to be heard over chants from the picket line in the background: “When do we want it?” “Now!” “If we don’t get it…” “Shut it down!”

“Shutting it down” isn’t far off from what graduate students are doing at Columbia. The number of graduate students who participated on the first day left hundreds of core classes and recitations without instructors in the last week of classes before finals.

“People you see walking teach the main undergraduate classes,” Ray said. “There are research assistants, and their labs are currently quiet. There are teaching assistants who may have their own sections. All of those things are shut down.”

Some undergrads looked on with curiosity while others passed by, seemingly indifferent — but many will be affected by the strike. Graduate students teach roughly one-third of the Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization sections. The union offered a one-week notice before the strike began, and, according to the Columbia Spectator, teachers adjusted their syllabi in advance. The union also assisted professors who didn’t want to cross the picket line in booking space in local churches in order to hold classes off campus.

The current conflict at Columbia ties into a larger, highly political process of unionizing at private universities, something that ebbs and flows with presidential administrations. When Columbia graduate students voted to unionize in August of 2016, most weren’t expecting Donald Trump to take office three months later. His presidency has pitted students against the Columbia administration in an unlikely battle, with students fighting for bargaining rights they won under Obama, and the university pushing for a court battle under Trump.  


While the Columbia strike piggybacks on a nationwide movement of education strikes from Kentucky to Jersey City, tension between the school’s graduate students and administration has built over several years. Graduate student instructors first discussed the possibility of unionization back in January of 2014. The students’ goal was to improve their labor conditions — in their roles as both teachers and research assistants — and to also have a stronger say in decisions affecting their work.

After graduate students appealed to Columbia for voluntary recognition of the Graduate Workers of Columbia University, the administration hired Proskauer Rose, an international law firm known for its work in labor law, to fight their petition. (Organizers view the firm as anti-union, as it represented both Yale and Duke on their campaigns to block unionization.)  

At the time, the law was on Columbia’s side. After Brown University took its graduate union to court, the National Labor Relations Board issued a 2004 ruling that stated graduate teaching assistants, research assistants, and proctors were not employees of the university, reversing an earlier decision they had made in 2000 allowing a graduate union at New York University.

In 2015, the NLRB dismissed several petitions by the Columbia students for the right to unionize. Then, at the end of that year, the board issued an order granting review of the students’ case to consider whether or not to overturn the Brown ruling. In August of 2016, the board overturned its ruling, at which point Columbia graduate students voted overwhelmingly to unionize with the United Automobile Workers as GWC-UAW Local 2110. (Ed. Note: The UAW also represents Village Voice staff.)

Decisions from the NLRB change with the presidential tide. NYU established its graduate union under Clinton; the Brown case was ruled on under Bush, then overturned under Obama. Three months after the union vote, Donald Trump was elected president and began remaking the NLRB into an agency more hostile to unions. With Columbia declining to bargain, the university is expected to use a number of legal maneuvers to bring a case before a federal appeals court.

At Tuesday’s strike kickoff, anger with the university overlapped with anger at its president, Lee Bollinger. Though Bollinger once said Donald Trump was a “challenge to the central idea of a university,” some students felt he was banking on the Trump administration to help Columbia dissolve their union.

“Bollinger talks a lot about democracy,” said Noah Rauschkolb, a Ph.D. student in renewable energy. “He doesn’t really value it.”

Noura Farra, an international student in the sixth year of her computer science Ph.D., said the political climate has undoubtedly shaped the urgency of unionization. “We need extra protection for international students, who are often the most vulnerable of the graduate population,” she said. The union’s bargaining proposal includes an expedited grievance procedure if undocumented students are facing dismissal from the country. The proposal also asks Columbia “to declare itself as a sanctuary campus and declare their support for international students affected by the political climate,” Farra added.

Graduate students teach roughly one-third of the Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization sections.

Sexual harassment of graduate students from professors at the university — which Ray called “an open secret” — also looms large. Anayvelyse Allen-Mossman, a graduate student in Latin American and Iberian cultures who is not teaching her Hispanic Cultures II course this week, said “The university’s mishandling of gender-based misconduct and sexual harassment has been discouraging.” (In a Medium post Allen-Mossman co-signed with a collaboration of Ph.D. students, the authors referenced — but did not name — professors who women are told they “should never be alone in a room” with.) The bargaining proposal, Allen-Mossman said, calls for a neutral, third-party grievance procedure that would better hold sexual harassers and the university accountable for claims of harassment.

Besides the overarching demand for a contract ensuring higher wages, better benefits, clearer work expectations, and more transparent employment policies, some students at the picket line offered more specific concerns. Rauschkolb said the mechanical department, where he studies renewable energy, is known for late pay. “We’re waiting at least six months to get reimbursed” for work and travel, he said. “We want to make sure our contract guarantees we’ll actually get paid on time.”

Ph.D. students also seek better funding for their work. Valerie Stahl, a Ph.D. student in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, said her department doesn’t allow Ph.D. students to teach courses — and therefore uphold their funding — once they’ve been enrolled for five years. “Considering that the median time to a degree in the social sciences nationwide is estimated at eight years, running out of funding after our fifth year is a major concern,” she said.

A Columbia spokesperson sent a statement to the Voice saying that “we have long supported unions and collectively bargain with more than a dozen unions representing thousands of University employees. But we believe that student teaching and research assistants who come to Columbia for an education are not ‘employees’ under the law.” The statement continues, “We do not understand why the GWC-UAW prefers the pressure tactics and disruption of a strike to a definitive, non-partisan resolution of that legal question in the federal courts.”

After students voted overwhelmingly to go on strike, the university offered a concession: medical benefits to the dependents of graduate students. (While graduate students currently get medical benefits, the union is fighting for dental insurance as well.) “So they’re willing to give us some of the money as long as we keep organizing,” Ray said. “But it’s the power-shifting stuff that’s the real struggle.”

As the picket line adapted a chant more commonly reserved for Trump — “Hey hey, ho ho, Bollinger has got to go” — Ray promised the union wasn’t going anywhere. Without recognition, she said, they’re prepared to go back on strike next semester. They know the pressure they put on the university to bargain could have greater repercussions. If the university holds out and sends the case to court — and it rules in Columbia’s favor — it will negatively affect the ability of other private university students to unionize under Trump.

“Columbia could decide at any time to recognize us,” Ray said. “But we think it’s likely we’ll be doing this again.”


The UFT & PBA’s Demand for Payback From New Mayor Faces Budget Realities

October 31st, 2009. For the teachers of New York City, this date marks the last day 94,000 of them had a contract with the Bloomberg administration. Since then, the wages for our city’s educators have remained at a standstill, suspended by political tensions over layoffs, attrition and mayoral control drama. On January 1, 2014, the day the new mayor takes office, the union hopes to hit the reset button on contract settlements. When that day comes, the United Federation of Teachers, along with the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, want their money back, placing City Hall and its budget in a financial bind.

On UFT President Michael Mulgrew’s calculator, the city owes its teachers upward of $3.2 billion–an amount that, if spread accordingly to employees, would add $7,000 to teachers’ salaries, which are now frozen at $54,000. For police, that number is a bit smaller, given that the PBA’s contract with the city expired a little over a year later than the teachers’ on July 31, 2010. Patrick Lynch, the PBA chieftain, is demanding $530 million from the mayor, arguing that veterans would have $81,444 in their wallets if a labor pact still existed, up $5,000 from the current salaries.

Combined, these totals come out to around $3.8 billion in back wages. But, with threats from Hizzoner of $1.5 billion in cuts this year and next, as well as a soon-to-be-closed deficit of $1.1 billion in the city’s expenses, where do the labor forces expect this money to come from?

Unexpected surpluses. Richard Riley, chief spokesperson for the teachers’ union, pointed me to an editorial by President Mulgrew to be published today in the UFT newsletter. In it, the union chief evokes a familiar narrative between labor and government. “For the first time ever, not a single New York City municipal labor union has a contract–a crowning achievement for Bloomberg’s disastrous time in office,” he writes.

From the mayor’s perspective, the years after the Great Recession have left the city’s finances in disarray, forcing Bloomberg to cry deficit as budget shortfalls loomed. Hence why there has not been a single dollar in the budget for raises in almost half a decade. But, according to Mulgrew, the money is there, waiting to be given back to the city’s workers:

The mayor has a budget credibility problem. Just look at the last few years. In June 2010, he said there was no money for the next fiscal year and eliminated the money reserved for municipal workers’ raises, but the city in fact had a $3.75 billion surplus. In 2012, the mayor’s $3.16 billion deficit magically turned out to be a $2.47 billion surplus. And this year, the mayor said we’d be short $4.85 billion, but we’re actually on track to have a surplus of $2.2 billion. Even nonpartisan fiscal monitors like the Independent Budget Office, known for its conservative budget estimates, say there is money. Either Mayor Bloomberg needs remediation in math, or he needs to stop misleading the public to force through his anti-worker, pro-privatization austerity measures.

While the mayor has crystal-balled deficits left and right, the guessing game for surpluses is a plague of city politics. The Independent Budget Office’s predictions seem to fluctuate monthly, along with the comptrollers of the city and state. Regardless, one thing is true: New York City has had a surplus for some time now. And, if this pattern described by Mulgrew continues, the bad news of a $811 million shortfall this year will probably be met with good news worth billions.

Where does that leave the mayoral prospects? For electoral purposes, all the Democratic candidates have promised to sit down with the unions and settle scores once and for all. Anthony Weiner made that clear the other day to the teachers union; Bill de Blasio is positing himself as the middle class defender; John Liu just picked up the DC37 endorsement; and Christine Quinn hopes to brush Bloomberg’s legacy from her shoulders to seem negotiable to the forces that despise her boss.

If those totals from the back wages match up, the expected payback will make up the majority of what the surplus pays out to, whatever that may be. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the new mayor will hand over billions to the workers on Day One. The city will have other expenses to pay, like all the backlog of promises made by councilmembers.

If the unions are demanding full, immediate payback, they probably shouldn’t get their hopes up.



Comptroller John Liu Picks Up Huge Labor Endorsement From DC37

In late 2009, after a tumultuous back-and-forth in contract negotiations, DC37 ended its support for Mayor Bloomberg–a leader whom they viewed as emotionally numb towards union layoffs and benefit cuts with the Great Recession settling in. For the 2010 mayoral election, DC37 switched from a mayor it once endorsed in 2006 to Democratic nominee Bill Thompson. New York City’s largest public union consists of over 121,000 members; with those numbers in mind, DC37 stands as a formidable force this November. And, last night, they chose their favorite in the post-Bloomberg detente: Comptroller John Liu.

The union has yet to release an official statement of endorsement, but it was discovered yesterday evening that the union’s assembly voted to endorse the comptroller. Executive Director Lillian Roberts made it clear in an earlier press release that the union sought to support a politician who truly cared about “neglected communities and the public workers that serve them.”

But why is the city’s largest public union endorsing a candidate who currently stands at 8 percent in polls?

As comptroller, Liu presents himself as the justice figure in city politics; his main job is to detect and eliminate corruption in all areas of government. It was his office that was responsible for uncovering the CityTime scandal in 2010–an event that sparked the fury of DC37 and other unions with the project’s huge ties to private contractors. To the municipal workers, he’s the defender and watchdog of the city’s finances.

Because the union doesn’t have time for Bloomberg, in effect, it has faltered in support for Christine Quinn, even after her victory two weeks ago on the paid sick leave bill. The endorsement of Liu is a huge loss for the council speaker and yet more evidence of the difficult position Bloomberg has placed her in with the Democratic base.

However, the labor force has failed to unite behind a single Democratic candidate, which may cost them at the polls. DC37 is the city’s largest public union, but numerous other unions have divided amongst roster lines, some throwing their support behind Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, while others sticking to a firm belief that Quinn is (and always will be) the frontrunner.

And, of course, who could forget the Weiner factor in all of this?


Workers Swarm 42nd Street and Picket Across the City For Liveable Wages and Better Treatment

Hard-hats and picket-signs flooded 42nd Street yesterday evening as thousands of workers and social activists from around the city gathered in solidarity to fight for better working conditions.

The demonstration came on the heels of last week’s Fast-Food Forward protest — where employees at different fast-food establishments across the city walked off of the job in order to demand higher wages, benefits and the right to unionize.

Fast-food strikers joined forces yesterday with other fed-up workers — in health-care, construction, security, service industries and other marginalized sectors — in order to let the rest of the city know that their plight will no longer be ignored.

“Like you fast-food workers, I make $8/hour, no benefits [and] no sick days. Like you Wal-Mart workers, we JFK Airport security officers are fed up too,” Prince Jackson, an employee of airport security company Air Serve, told the crowd. “We’re here today united because we are faced with the same challenge: ‘how do we make our country [and] our economy work for working people?”

Many politicians, including mayoral hopefuls Bill Thompson, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, joined the workers in a show of support.

“More and more we are living in a tale of two cities — one part of the city where everything’s okay, where things are working well,” De Blasio said. “[There’s] another part of the city where people are struggling just for a decent wage, just for decent benefits, just for job security, and that’s not the way this city should be.”

Thompson reminded workers that it’s really their hard work that allows the city to function.

“You make the city of New York go and run each and every day in the jobs that you do,” Thompson, former NYC comptroller, said. “If you don’t get paid a decent wage, if you can’t bring your family up in this city, if you can’t enjoy a little bit of what you put into New York City, it isn’t worthwhile and New York City isn’t the city that it can be.”

The workers appear to be energizing one another. After the unified protest, workers in different industries held separate demonstrations aimed at their respective employers.

Cablevision workers traveled up the block to picket outside of Time Square’s Hard Rock Café — where Cablevision CEO James Dolan was performing at his annual holiday concert with his band JD and The Straight Shot. (Yes, Dolan does have a band, and that is what it’s called unfortunately.) They were there to pressure him to come to an agreement with the union, which workers voted to join nearly a year ago.

A few hundred car wash workers and supporters headed down to Lage Car Wash in Lower-Manhattan, in a rally to get their boss, John Lage, to recognize the decision made by workers at two of his more than twenty car washes across the city to unionize.

“I feel energized by the fact that there are these campaigns happening all over the city,” Juan Carlos Rivera, a car-washer at Lage, told the Voice through a translator. “We’re already fighting, but it makes me feel that much more energized to keep fighting.”

Workers, families and activists picket outside of John Lage's car wash on 6th Avenue.
Workers, families and activists picket outside of John Lage’s car wash on 6th Avenue.

The car wash workers recently voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. They were there, with social justice organization, Make the Road New York, to rally and tape a letter to Lage’s office door demanding that he negotiate a contract.

Workers at the car wash currently make $5.50/hour. Tips are supposed to bring the workers to the standard legal wage of $7.25/hour, but they often don’t, according to Rivera.

At the very least, workers are asking for the standard $7.25/hour minimum wage in addition to their earnings in tips, adequate safety equipment to protect them from constant exposure to harsh chemicals and respectful treatment from their managers.

Rivera said that once he and his fellow workers began to gain momentum in their movement, Lage personally came to him and upped his salary to $6/hour. Apparently, that was Lage’s way of offering Rivera “hush” money. But, Rivera, who has two children, said he won’t stop fighting — not when he has to live in constant fear he won’t make rent or be able to feed his kids.

“We’re here to support the workers, it’s all about the workers,” David Mertz, assistant to the president at RWDSU, said. “We want [Lage] to understand that we won’t go away until we get a contract that protects them and really helps them lead the kind of lives that they deserve.”


Is Your Teacher “Highly Ineffective?” Job Evaluations Face Publicity in Albany

In a legislative roll that includes the cyber-bulling bill mentioned today by the Voice, Albany lawmakers are trying to hammer out as many laws as possible before its Thursday session deadline. And this one has a whole lot of merit.

Next on the agenda, Governor Cuomo, the State Legislature and city officials, who overlook the largest public school system in the country, are in talks to push forward a bill that would provide job evaluations for parents’ eyes only for the first time.
What do the evaluations consist of? One thing mostly: is the teacher “effective” or “highly ineffective?” Simple enough.
But, if the deal does not go through, the teacher evaluations will be public data – a measure that the Bloomberg administration wholeheartedly supports.
This transparency measure comes in opposition to the will of the unions, who are advocating for a one-on-one relationship between the parents and principals. Their plan would limit interaction about a student’s teacher to a meeting set up between the two, in which parents were unable to take notes or leave with anything written down.
For even more pressure, the negotiation deadline for Cuomo to find the middle ground between the two extremes has been set for Monday night. Let the talks begin.

As of now, it is believed that the Governor will come out of the talks with a bill that keeps evaluations in the hands of the parents and principals only. However, is this the best deal for our students and the teachers that watch over them for eight hours of the day?

According to B. Jason Brooks, head of the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability, we can look to other evaluation examples for guidance. Like car insurance: “Teacher evaluations can be viewed as the equivalent of a Carfax report, empowering parents to attempt to avoid the ‘lemons.'”
But, in that sense, the process of choosing a teacher almost becomes like buying a product; there is a difference between a human being and a dented Toyota Camry. The evaluations put meritocracy into high speed and stick dead labels on teachers without clear intention. What constitutes a teacher being “highly ineffective” or “effective?”
The other side of the argument is focused on the hands the evaluations are being placed in. If anyone should know what is happening to our students, it is their parents so, with the evaluations on the side, they can make the best decisions with the most amount of information in front of them.
And the public database thing that Bloomberg is all about…
Has anyone ever heard of RateMyProfessors?
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES show-old-images THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

The Billion-Dollar Reason for Jimmy Hoffa’s Disappearance

The Billion-Dollar Reason for Hoffa’s Disappearance
September 8, 1975

Shortly after Jimmy Hoffa van­ished, a newspaper colleague for whose intelligence I have the utmost respect commented from across the lunch table, “I don’t know why I should care whether he’s dead or not. They’re all crooks anyway.”

What she was saying, in effect, was that the black headline across the front of the Daily News that morning (FBI SAYS HOFFA DREW $IM CASH) was just the News’s standard police trivia, appealing to the same readers for the same reasons as the front page headline the next day (GUNMAN, MOLL SLAIN BY COP).

But several important facts ele­vate the Hoffa case from that of the unfortunate but forgettable man and moll who were interrupted in mid bank robbery.

First, Mr. Hoffa’s pending return to Teamster politics threatened to obstruct the Mafia’s drain on the union’s multibillion-dollar financial holdings — or else, why would he have vanished? In all probability, either the hoods he was meeting for lunch the day he disappeared came to that conclusion and set him up, or Mr. Hoffa figured they were about to come to that conclusion and took it on the lam, or, if you like long shots, the Justice Department figured somebody was about to come to that conclusion and sequestered Mr. Hoffa.

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Twice in the year before Mr. Hoffa disappeared, the Justice Department was told by an emissary that Mr. Hoffa was willing to supply information that would “get” his rival, Teamster boss Frank Fitzsim­mons, according to a senior official of a large U.S. attorney’s office, who says the emissary approached him personally. The official, who had been involved in investigating the union and who says he thinks Mr. Hoffa is dead now, asks not to be identified. He will identify the emis­sary only as a “reputable, respected member of the media.” And he says the offer was turned down.

Second, merely the ability of the mob to remove from activity some­one as important as Jimmy Hoffa and get away with it would signify that in 1975, nearly 20 years after Robert Kennedy’s Senate hearings exposed Teamster corruption, the mob retains undiminished access to the union vault and still feels free to defy society and its laws with impunity.

Third, the $100 million deals that Teamster leaders transact with all sorts of suspicious characters are of a size beyond the imagination of most bank chairmen, let alone most bank robbers.

Moreover, the Teamster money is not merely being stolen by one set of crooks from another. Nor, ultimate­ly, is it even being stolen from union workers or their bosses. The majori­ty, though by no means all, of the 2.2 million Teamsters have in one way or another acquiesced in these she­nanigans, and could, with a real will, stop them. The same could be said of their employers.

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When you get right down to it, the money is being stolen from every one of us who ever buys anything, any part of which was ever shipped by truck or loaded in a warehouse. And to ignore what happened to Jimmy Hoffa would be to join the Teamsters and their employers in institution­alizing this thievery. (Actually, the pool of victims is expanding, as the Teamsters’ latest image-building ad campaign points out; victims now include drinkers of Gallo wine, patrons of certain telephone systems, and even the taxpayers of Michigan, some of whose state police just voted to join up.)

What separates Jimmy Hoffa from his rivals for power in the union is that Mr. Hoffa long has had the personal loyalty of hundreds of thou­sands of rank and file teamsters. Most of these Teamsters know very well that Mr. Hoffa has helped de­fraud their pension fund of enormous sums. They know he went to prison for it.

But they also know that what they have left over after he and his col­leagues have finished stealing is still more than they ever had before Jimmy Hoffa built their brotherhood into America’s most powerful union. They are grateful.

The employers of these men aren’t blind either. They have purchased union stability, labor peace, and even a share of the pension fund action, all at the price of simple in­tegrity.

The money for this industrial coziness is coming from us.

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Every week the employers of Teamster members pay a contribu­tion in lieu of salary into one of 200 union-connected pension funds. The biggest group of these workers, truckers covered by the master freight agreement, are supposed beneficiaries of contributions of $22 a week for each employee. The largest of the funds — the Central States, Southeast, and Southwest Areas pension fund, headquartered in Chicago — takes in about $400 million a year. Its reported assets exceed $1.3 billion.

This is the fund that Mr. Hoffa was a trustee of when he was interna­tional president of the Teamsters. It is the fund that he went to prison for defrauding, and the fund that his successor and rival, Frank Fitzsimmons, is a trustee of now.

Such funds aren’t required to disclose much about themselves to the public or to their members (even under the so-called Pension Reform Act of 1974), and the Central States fund has always gone to great lengths to keep its records secret. Information about how it handles its money has leaked out much more slowly than the money itself.

Several years ago, however, the fund was required to turn over a list of its investments to a federal court in connection with a lawsuit fired by a Teamster dissident. Although this investment list was sealed by the court at the union’s request and thus kept from public inspection, copies of it were obtained by Overdrive, a West Coast trucking magazine, and by the Wall Street Journal, both of which have recently published series of articles based in large part on its contents.

The records showed that some 89 per cent of the fund’s money was invested in real estate loans to businesses — against less than 5 per cent for the average similar fund; that many of these businesses seemed to have little other source of financing; and that a shocking 36.5 per cent of the money thus invested was in loans that already had gone delinquent or had been foreclosed, with indications that a lot more could wind up the same way.

Many loans have been made to companies owned by mobsters and their cronies; to companies at least partly owned by lawyers, consul­tants, or other insiders who help run the fund itself; and to companies employing Teamster workers. The union has on occasion refused to support its members in labor disputes with employers who have outstanding loans from the fund.

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Mr. Hoffa was deeply involved in the channeling of union money to crime figures beginning with his rise to power in the Chicago-based Cen­tral Conference of Teamsters 25 years ago. The head of a Detroit local, he needed a power source in Chicago and found one in Paul “Red” Dorfman. Mr. Dorfman was a leader of the Chicago Waste Handlers Union (until later expelled by the AFL-CIO for misuse of funds) and a close ally of racketeers since the Capone era.

When Mr. Hoffa took power in the Central Conference of Teamsters, he immediately switched its group insurance business, which exceeded $10 million a year even in those days, away from a large, reputable company and over to a small one, whose general agent, just appointed, was Red Dorfman’s son Allen. Allen Dorfman and his friends prospered accordingly.

Young Dorfman became Mr. Hoffa’s right arm in pension-fund matters when the fund was estab­lished in 1955. He not only held its insurance business and was assigned to monitor the insurance needs of borrowers, he also was the man to see if you wanted a loan, and he stayed on as such after Mr. Hoffa began his prison term.

Mr. Dorfman sometimes acquired land in development projects that the fund was financing, or stock in a company that borrowed millions of dollars from the fund. He has sold such stock at a high personal profit before the borrowing company re­paid much of its loan. He and other insiders have taken over a company in default to the fund, sold it at hundreds of thousands of dollars profit without repaying the fund, and arranged for the fund to transfer the unpaid mortgage debt to the new buyers.

Sometimes through arrangements made by Mr. Dorfman and sometimes not, the fund loaned millions of dollars to companies that were asso­ciated then or soon afterward with mobsters. Among the men involved in fund-financed projects who have been identified as prominent racketeers by government agencies and the press are Anthony “Tough Tony” Spilotro, Joseph “The Clown” Lombardo, Andrew Lococo, Michael “Big Mike” Polizzi, Louis “Lou the Tailor” Rosanova, and even the notorious, confessed torture-murderer Felix “Milwaukee Phil” Alderisio.

Millions of dollars from such loans weren’t repaid on time if at all.

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The fund also has created controversy with its bizarre concentrations of loans. Las Vegas, for, example, is largely built with Teamster money, hundreds of millions of dollars of it. Much of the original investment was channeled through Morris “Moe” Dalitz, identified in congressional testimony as a bootlegging and gambling figure from Cleveland from decades ago. Mr. Dalitz bowed out of the Nevada business, though he stayed a part of the fund’s $57 million investment in the lavish La Costa resort and land development near San Diego, which is patronized in large part by union insiders and their cronies.

Nevada gaming authorities have been requiring clean records for casino operators there, so lately the Teamster investments have been channeled through men like Morris Shenker, long Mr. Hoffa’s lawyer, and Allen R. Glick, who, barely 30, rose meteorically from being an employee of a San Diego real estate firm to authority over more than $100 million in pension-fund investments.

Mr. Shenker also was a central figure in the biggest fund loan of all, some $116 million–$140 million to the Penasquitos land development project, in Southern California. The loan was foreclosed with barely $5 million repaid. The pension fund now owns the 16,000 mostly undeveloped acres in the project, and as in so many other cases nobody has accounted publicly for the money.

With all this cash going out, one might wonder how the fund pays its pensions. The answer is, it often doesn’t.

The fund won’t disclose how many men apply for pensions and how many are turned down, but it’s not hard to sit at a phone and locate dozens of Teamsters and former Teamsters who say they have been gypped out of pensions they believe they are entitled to. Mostly, their cases involve loopholes that are written into the fund rules. Most Teamsters apparently aren’t aware of these loopholes until it’s too late.

After a four-to-six month wait for the fund to process their applications, pension seekers often are told that they must prove they have 20 years of industry credit. In an industry like trucking, made up of many small companies that go in and out of business fast, satisfactory records often are unavailable. The fund itself would be best able to keep them, but it says it doesn’t.

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For example, one Florida retiree wasn’t approved for a pension, apparently on the grounds that his work time in the 1950s with an Ohio firm, long out of business, wasn’t adequately verified. He submitted an employee identification card and a photograph of him driving a company truck, but his application was returned with only the cryptic explanation, “The attached papers are being returned to you.”

When he persisted, the fund wrote back many months later, “Kindly be advised that affidavits must be submitted from fellow workers, owners, or supervisors. These affidavits must include the type of work you did, the number of years you worked, and the number of hours worked per year. You may also submit your check stubs.” None of this documentation can be obtained now, the retiree says.

Other pension applicants are stunned to learn of the so-called break-in-service provision, under which, if a Teamster spends three years in other work, all prior pension credits are eliminated. Many truckers seek factory work during hard times in the hauling business, and then go back to trucking, now knowing that they are starting over on their 20-year pension service.

Many others spend a few years driving rigs that they are trying to buy under installment contracts such “owner-operators” still must maintain union membership, but the fund counts this time as a break in employee service. Often the installment contracts don’t work out and the driver goes back to salaried work, only to discover years later that he has lost his pension rights.

Moreover, many of the 200 pension plans don’t have reciprocal credit agreements with each other or with the big Central States fund. Truckers, in the course of their jobs, often must transfer from a local covered by one plan to a local cov­ered by another, and thus, without realizing it at the time, lose their pension rights.

Occasionally an individual Teamster has gone to court and won the right to his pension, but dissident groups have never been successful in overthrowing the way the fund is run. The union always goes first­-class on legal protection, and law­yers for dissident members, usually operating without fee or on contingency, run out of patience fast when faced by mountains of technical motions and other delaying tactics filed by the union’s high-powered law firms.

All of this, of course, works to the pleasure of the union leaders and the mob. When Mr. Hoffa, who did much to organize the system, went to jail, apprehension must have rippled through the Mafia beneficiaries of the union’s largess. But under Mr. Fitzsimmons, apparently nothing has gone awry.

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Most impressive, when Allen Dorfman was forced to resign as “special consultant” to the fund in 1972 because he was on his way to jail for taking a $55,000 bribe in the award of a loan (he served less than a year), affairs continued to flow smoothly. (Interestingly, Mr. Dorfman went out of sight last month about the same time Mr. Hoffa did. His family and office say he’s traveling in Europe and can’t be reached.)

Like Theodore Roosevelt retiring from the White House in 1908, Mr. Hoffa on his way to jail had picked as his successor a weak man, a flunky, who could be expected to yield power on request. But as with Mr. Roosevelt, Mr. Hoffa decided later that he had chosen wrong, and felt constrained to launch what was in effect a third- (in this case, second-) party movement.

The mob may well have decided that a campaign between Messrs. Hoffa and Fitzsimmons could only cause trouble. Harmful charges might inevitable have leaked out even if both candidates tried to remain loyal to the system. But there was also the possibility that Mr. Hoffa would have stopped at nothing to regain power, and the possibility is based on more than mere speculation.

Friends of Mr. Hoffa have been arguing that the last thing in the world they would expect him to do would be to turn to the government with evidence about Teamster corruption. But the Justice Department official who told of being approached by an intermediary says otherwise.

The official says he declined to pursue the offer of information from Mr. Hoffa for two reasons. In general, he says, the Justice Department doesn’t want to be used as an in­strument to help individuals “get” their enemies. And in particular, the offers came when the department was near trial in a major criminal case over an alleged plot to defraud the Central States pension fund of $1.4 million. Among the seven defendants in the case were two trustees of the fund and Messrs. Dorfman, Spilotro, and Lombardo. Prosecu­tors feared that the offer from Mr. Hoffa, if accepted, might somehow, compromise the prosecution of that case, the winning of which was con­sidered crucial to forcing changes in the fund administration.

The case was tried this spring for 10 weeks. One of the government’s two star witnesses, a businessman who had helped the alleged plotters and then had agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, was shotgunned to death shortly before the trial. The judge ruled out any evidence about the shooting, or about the defendants’ backgrounds, and the jury never learned the checkered history of the pension fund.

The defendants were supported not only by some of the best legal counsel in the country, but also by Arthur Young & Co., the large accounting firm, which apparently was paid $150,000 in pension-fund money (channeled indirectly through the defense law firms) to prepare, belatedly, well-balanced books for the mobster-run company that defaulted on its $1.4 million loan.

All seven defendants were acquit­ted.