Unions understandably resent competition from non-joining workers. And their members do what they can, legally or not, to discourage it. But a local Pennsylvania affiliate of the Service Employees International Union may have taken things too far in allegedly threatening to sue an Eagle Scout. In the wake of bad publicity, its president has resigned. On Thursday, May 19, Nick Balzano, president of the Allentown chapter of New York City’s SEIU Local 32BJ, along with several other union employees, submitted a letter of resignation only a day after FoxNews.com reported that the union might file a grievance against the City of Allentown for allowing a teenager to clear brush to create a walking trail. While SEIU headquarters denied a formal grievance had been filed, the resignations cast an unfavorable shadow upon the union either way.
The focal points of the controversy are Nick Balzano and one Kevin Anderson, a 17-year-old local high school student. Apparently, Balzano was upset that the City of Allentown had granted permission to Anderson, acting in a volunteer capacity, to create a walking trail in a local park instead of paying some of the nearly 40 laid-off union members to do the work. Balzano was moved to tell the city council that his organization would be “looking into the Cub Scout or Boy Scout who did the trails…There’s to be no volunteers.” SEIU spokesman Matt Nerzig was not pleased to hear the news. He called Balzano’s comment “completely unauthorized and insensitive” and that the union in no way had considered filing a grievance.
Real or imagined, the contemplated lawsuit proved to be a public relations disaster. Anderson, a member of Boy Scouts Troop 301 of Center Valley, Pa., had spent around 250 hours creating a 1,000-foot path in Kimmets Local Park, along with fellow scouts, friends and parents. The effort, undertaken so that Anderson could earn an Eagle Scout badge, transformed a run-down section of the park into a real public asset. “The volunteers and I removed trash, many old tires and recyclables from this former illegal dump-site,” he told FoxNews.com. The cleanup campaign earned praise from Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski as a “great service to the community.” Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Charles Dent went further, requesting in a letter to Balzano that the SEIU formally apologize to the teen. “I am astounded that you would threaten to file a grievance against the City of Allentown because the administration wisely chooses to make volunteer opportunities available, especially when this type of frivolous grievance could add to the tax burden of the citizens,” Dent wrote.
Balzano, shall one say, wasn’t holding a strong hand. Nobody wants to be seen as an enemy of a hard-working honest Eagle Scout. Even assuming he and several other members hadn’t been pressured to step down by persons up the Service Employees hierarchy, his resignation could have been expected. But the controversy, though short-lived, has a significance extending well beyond the Allentown area. Unions resent nonunion competition. That the competition in this case consisted of volunteers who, without monetary compensation, did the job at least as well as union members, adds fuel to the argument that unions act as government-protected labor cartels, securing benefits for a relative few at the expense of the many.