During Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House, he has stacked the deck at the National Labor Relations Board with officials sympathetic to unions. (At one point, a unanimous Supreme Court decision ruled that Obama’s recess appointments to the board were illegal.) The NLRB has in turn issued all sorts of new rules to inhibit union the transparency of union officials, tie employers’ hands who want to make their case during unions elections, and give organized labor an unfair advantage during contract negotiations.
While the right to association is enshrined in the Constitution, the lack of a level playing field for employers is a problem given the long and illustrious history of union corruption. On Tuesday, a vivid reminder of this came when a Houston jury ordered the Service Employees International Union, arguably the country’s most politically influential union, to pay $5.3 million dollars to Professional Janitorial Services for legally harassing the company and running a libelous campaign against the company. A press release on behalf of Professional Janitorial Services fairly summarizes the jury’s findings:
- False Claims:SEIU filed 19 unfair labor practice (ULP) complaints against PJS with the National Labor Relations Board and cited the complaints as “evidence” of the company’s mistreatment of employees, despite the fact that every complaint was dismissed by the federal agency or withdrawn by the union. The union also filed a class action lawsuit against PJS that claimed the company owed back wages and “deposits” to its employees, then cited the lawsuit as evidence the company was violating federal wage laws, despite the fact that the Department of Labor found no such violations and the lawsuit was dismissed.
• False Statements: SEIU directed its Texas organizers to ignore laws and use the union’s Washington, DC-based legal “Fellow,” Darren Dalmat to “legalize” their conduct. Dalmat instructed organizers to simply write “allegedly” in front of false statements that were sent to PJS customers, and approved documents that were sent to him in as little as three minutes in some cases. This practice resulted in another scheme where the union’s lead organizer, Maria Luisa Hernandez, was shown to have apparently forged employee statements on claims against PJS, and engaged in efforts to influence witnesses at the trial. The scheme extended to the union’s Austin-based attorneys, Philip Durst and Craig Deats, who told the court Ms. Hernandez was recovering from a serious head injury and was under heavy sedation that prevented her from testifying, though she was ordered to appear and admitted under oath that she suffered no such injury and was taking no sedative medication.
• Media Collaboration: SEIU directed its Texas representatives to “recruit” reporters at the Houston Chronicle and other outlets who would help them “take the offensive” in the campaign against PJS. This included a strategy to avoid any media attention on the failure of the SEIU to gain support from PJS employees for its organizing campaign. The SEIU instructed Texas organizers to work with its media “allies” to focus their reporting on the union’s falsified and now discredited claims.
Not all unions engage in this kind of illegal activity, but the SEIU has a reputation for reprehensible behavior. But the union also has powerful political allies—the financially troubled union spent $80 million dollars it didn’t have electing Barack Obama twice, and a former SEIU operative, Patrick Gaspard, became Obama’s political director. (Gaspard then conveniently forgot to disclose a $37,000payment from the SEIU while he was working for the White House.) The SEIU is willing to act so brazenly because most of the time, its friends in the White House and NLRB, allow it to get away with corruption. The judgment for Professional Janitorial Services is a rare and refreshing exception.