There's an internal war going on in one of the Communications Workers of America's largest locals, New York City's Local 1101. Accusations of poor, absentee leadership has caused a group of rank and file stewards and chief stewards to start a campaign to reform the local. Now, the issues have involved the CWA International in Washington, which has placed a monitor over the local due to an investigation's findings that revealed the local's union bosses have been fattening themselves on their members' dues.
CWA Local 1101 has nearly 7,000 members—most of whom work for telecom giant Verizon, as well as a handful of other companies. In 2010, local 1101 took in over $5.3 million in dues and agency fees. In addition, because New York is not a right to work state, Local 1101 is legally permitted to charge its members 1.9% of their pay as a condition of employment. If they don't pay, the union can order them to be fired. As such, some members pay over $1400 per year in union dues to enable the local's officers to rake in over $150,000 a year in compensation.
This is, perhaps, one of the reasons the local membership is up in arms over the alleged financial improprieties of a number of the local's officers [via Labor Notes]:
A union-appointed prosecutor and financial investigator revealed in a report released March 24 that local officers and executive board members granted themselves $225 a week in unreceipted expenses—a cumulative cost of $156,000 annually for the union’s top leaders.
The expenditure, which was never approved by members, was explained as covering costs for gas, mileage, insurance, and tolls, although the local also paid out up to $37,000 a year in car service costs. Local leaders also gave themselves a 401(k) plan with a contribution equaling 15 percent of salary. The contribution was paid for by members’ dues—again without seeking member approval.
The investigators’ report criticized the “imprudent use of local funds,” noting that officers charged meal costs that averaged more than $225 per meal and hotel rooms that cost $600 a night during out-of-town conferences.
Al Luzzi and Joe McAleer, Local 1101 vice presidents, and business agent Pat Gibbons claimed that officers routinely charged both the local and the company for 40 hours of work per week, and had done so for decades. CWA investigators tried and failed to access Verizon payroll records to settle the claim of double-dipping. Neither would officers turn over tax returns to settle the matter.
But the DOL, unlike the union, has the power to subpoena records. [Emphasis added.]
For all the money the officers were making, according to a CWA local reform website, union officers haven't really been earning their keep.
The industry is changing. Our union is changing. But our E-Board is not. Most of them haven't been on the job for decades, and they're disconnected and out of touch.
We rarely see E-Board members in the shops. We file grievances and they seem to disappear after 2nd step. There's little information available, let alone efforts to mobilize members and keep them involved. In response to management actions we would not have tolerated in the past we increasingly hear "They can do that" and "Times have changed".
The accused officers, however, are not taking the International's interference lying down. On April 1st, the officers announced on the local's website that they would intention to rebut the International union's findings.
The CWA Executive Board has reviewed the request for a Temporary Administrator and has determined that the imposition of a Temporary Administrator is not warranted. The National union has a number of concerns and has made requests and suggestions. The Local is fully cooperating with their requests and has implemented their suggestions. We are currently reviewing their summary of findings and will respond with our rebuttal in compliance with the CWA Constitution.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident with the CWA as the union has, for years, had trusted union leaders end up putting themselves ahead of their membership.
Photo Credit: Kat Gloor
“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776