NLPC Releases Report on Union Corruption, Another on Politics

Full-length studies of union corruption have been rolling off the presses at a rapid pace this year. First, Robert Fitch came out with Solidarity for Sale (Public Affairs). Then James B. Jacobs weighed in with Mobsters, Unions, and Feds (NYU Press). Now the institution that makes possible Union Corruption Update, the National Legal and Policy Center, has unleashed a monograph. It’s called Union Corruption and the Law: Toward a Unified Framework for Reform. Don’t be put off by the word “law.” In 62 densely-packed 8½ x 11 pages, the author, Phillip B. Wilson, vice president and general counsel of the Oklahoma-based Labor Relations Institute, Inc., makes clear the complexities of prosecuting illegal union behavior to laymen as well as to lawyers. 


Wilson leads off by summarizing four representative cases, breaking down behavior and motives in fine detail to show that there’s no such thing as a slam dunk in labor law. Even “obvious” wrongdoing is capable of triggering a host of interlocking counterclaims, by which defendants’ lawyers can succeed in getting their clients off the hook. Victory for the prosecution/plaintiff, assuming it happens, is often time-consuming and expensive. And holding union leadership responsible for illegal actions taken by low-level personnel requires a high bar of proof. The plaintiff’s attorney first has to show that an illegal act had occurred, and if so, under which laws. A plaintiff seeking recourse may discover to his chagrin that he has to claim numerous violations, whether federal or state, to prove misconduct. Even if his union has a demonstrated pattern of corruption, that in and of itself proves nothing.        


The author argues that in its present form labor law is unwieldy, whether handled through prosecution or private litigation, and must be simplified. Equally to the point, reform must mean putting as much power as possible in the hands of rank-and-file union dissenters. The Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959, by intent and content, made explicit that the main responsibility for labor reform lay with unions themselves. The statutes placed considerable burdens on internal enforcement, mandating an open democratic process to ensure fairness and accountability. If only it were that easy. The law does occasionally work well in cases of “internally-generated” corruption, such as embezzlement, forgery, hiring-hall misuse and election-rigging. But it is of little use in instances of “externally-generated” corruption, in which union officials collude with legitimate outside entities such employers, contractors or politicians, in the pursuit of money, position or other things of value. And it can do little in the face of “general” corruption, in which unions operate in tandem with organized criminals. In such cases, ERISA, RICO, the Hobbs Act (anti-violence) or the Taft-Hartley Act may be more appropriate.   


Wilson points out key obstacles to reform: 1) a lack of consistent minimum core rights and expectations for union members in all jurisdictions; 2) a lack of provisions for reasonably accessible enforcement rights for all members; and 3) a lack of coordinated responses to corruption. The author recommends that methods of recourse available to dissenting union members be consistent, inexpensive and immune to frivolous legal roadblocks. He reminds us that unions guard the interests of workers who pay dues. It’s unfortunate that a maze of laws is required to induce them to listen even fitfully.          


The second study, Why Unions Promote Mass Immigration: Behind Organized Labor’s Interest-Group Alliances, is available online at, and should be available soon in hard copy. Authored by Carl F. Horowitz, publisher of this newsletter, this NLPC Special Report focuses on organized labor’s uncritical and militant support for high levels of immigration, especially relatively unskilled workers from the Third World. Set against the current backdrop of the debate raging in Congress over whether to grant what amounts to amnesty to some 12 million illegal immigrants now living in the U.S., the report could hardly be more timely. Virtually every labor leader, starting with AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Change to Win Federation President Andrew Stern, has endorsed some form of legalization of the resident status of illegal workers and family members. Such a position has been increasingly explicit ever since 1986, when Congress passed its first major amnesty bill, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). The irony of this is that organized labor is at odds not only with the wishes of the majority of Americans, but also with their own best interests.   


It wasn’t always like this. Union officials for decades fought to restrict immigration, especially by unskilled workers. They knew that large-scale immigration with few limits inhibited their collective bargaining power. The tough ceilings and national-origin quotas that Congress placed on immigration in 1924, aided by the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, in fact explained most of the steady rise in union membership to roughly 18 million by the mid 60s. It was in 1965, however, that lawmakers amended immigration law to scrap national-origin quotas and make family reunification the main basis for entry into this country. The result, intended or not, was far more legal and illegal immigration. The eventual reform legislation, IRCA, proved to be a temporary band-aid. But unions during this time had been witnessing a steady erosion of membership, in absolute as well as in relative numbers. And they came to see mass immigration, and political alliances with interest groups favoring mass immigration, as key to their long-term survival.

Of the various supporters of high immigration levels, the three most critical are business, unions and ethnic politicians, particularly those representing the interests of the Mexican ethnic population. The report examines the interplay of this “Iron Triangle.” Unions and business, though adversarial, work together to promote immigration (to minimize business labor costs and maximize union membership). Business leaders and ethnic politicians work together to promote Diversity (to enable the former to avoid class-action civil-rights suits and the latter to collect donations). And unions and ethnic politicians work together to promote a progressive-Left economic agenda to vote out “right-wing” interests. The end result is self-reinforcing mass immigration, in which there is no “final” amnesty, just the final one for now. In the long run union bargaining power will be undercut, whether or not the millions of unskilled, and often semi-literate and welfare-dependent, newcomers join. That’s something Democrat as well as Republican members of Congress should consider as they hammer out a compromise on pending immigration legislation.