Longtime readers of this publication no doubt have a sense of which unions are most prone to internal theft. The U.S. Department of Labor certainly does. In separate letters dated October 6, the DOL warned United Steelworkers President Thomas Conway and American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) President Everett Kelley that their unions are “disproportionately subject to embezzlement.” Anonymous DOL officials told the Daily Caller News Foundation, which had obtained copies of the letters, that such a step is “very rare.” The two labor organizations, respectively, represent about 575,000 and 323,000 members, and have combined assets worth around $1.4 billion. The action suggests that the department is giving extra attention to monitoring annual financial reports of unions generally.
The United Steelworkers, headquartered in Pittsburgh, has seen its share of thefts in the last couple years. This September, Brian Arnold, former financial secretary for the Elmira, N.Y.-based Steelworkers Local 104M, which represents employees of Anchor Glass Container Corporation, was sentenced for embezzling $33,224.15 from the union. In October 2019, Deloistine Williams, former secretary-treasurer of Steelworkers Local 929, was sentenced for covering up thefts in excess of $13,000 from the West Helena, Ark. union. In August 2019, Earl Roberts, former president of Local 4, based in the Detroit area, was charged with embezzling $53,697 in union funds. And in July 2018, Pamela Noble, former financial secretary of Local 6904, was sentenced for embezzling funds from the Little Rock-based union in the sum of $43,274.97.
The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents a large segment of the federal work force around the country, also has had recent embezzlement issues. Last month, Michael Oldham, former president of AFGE Local 1900, which represents military and civilian Army mechanics in the Boston area, was indicted for stealing nearly $39,000 in union funds. This past June, Rocky Gannon, former president of Local 2302, which represents civilian personnel at Fort Knox, Ky., pleaded guilty to diverting $116,353 in union funds to his own personal use. In December 2019, Audonus Duplessis, former president of the Washington, D.C.-based Local 2463, which represents employees at the Smithsonian Institution, was sentenced for transporting more than $11,000 in stolen funds to an out-of-state location; his actual thefts totaled more than $80,000. And in February 2019, Christy Coppin, former office secretary for Local 2250, which represents employees at the VA hospital in Muskogee, Okla., pleaded guilty to embezzling $52,738 from the union.
The Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards investigated each of these cases. The department’s letters of October 6 urged officials of the two unions to “take steps to address widespread misconduct” within their subordinate bodies. The correspondence emphasized that under federal law unions have a fiduciary responsibility to serve the best interests of dues-paying members. While the cases highlighted here obviously are less than a king’s ransom, they indicate a real problem notwithstanding. Hopefully, the DOL letters will be a catalyst for greater accountability at all unions, and not simply the Steelworkers and the AFGE.