For half a century, Evan Cotten has worked as a longshore clerk on the docks of Port of Tampa Bay in Florida. And he is a longtime dues-paying union member.
Last November, Cotten was elected to serve as a trustee for the joint pension fund that covers longshoremen under the monopoly control of Local 1402 of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), along with members of his own clerk and checkers union.
Once he gained access to ILA payroll records as a pension trustee, Cotten quickly realized, as he has since told reporters, that there are multiple “ghost workers” listed on the ILA payroll as stevedores who get paid for jobs they don’t actually perform.
After being surprised and puzzled late last year to see a “number of longshoremen names on payroll rosters that he didn’t know,” Cotten began “asking other union members if they knew the workers,” according to a June 5 news story for WFLA-TV, an NBC affiliate in Tampa, Fla. (See the link below to read the whole thing.)
It turned out no one on the docks could recognize the names of their supposed fellow employees. Workers like Charles Gibson, a longshoreman since 1975, concluded the employees are fraudulent. “No way they could be on the dock and I don’t see them, not for that many hours,” Gibson told WFLA investigative reporter Mark Douglas.
Among the “ghost workers” exposed by Cotten with rank-and-file ILA members’ assistance was Felix Santoya. As the Tampa Bay Times reported June 7, Santoya supposedly worked “726 hours as a longshoreman at Port Tampa Bay in 2016, enough to qualify for holiday, pension and to advance his seniority.” But Local 1402 members say they’ve never seen nor heard of him.
Cotten charges that, in addition to Santoya, he identified roughly 10 other “ghost workers” on the Local 1402 payroll. Some had been paid for thousands of hours accumulated over the course of up to five years.
Longshoreman Danny Riley expressed his outrage to Douglas: “The fraud and the corruption, the mismanagement, this [all] hurts me as well as the rest of the men.”
The wasteful and very likely criminal diversion of employee compensation into pay and benefits for “ghost” employees is far from the only example of dereliction of duty by the Local 1402 hierarchy. The union pension plan is woefully underfunded, and administrative expenditures are out of control. In 2010, for instance, pension administrative expenses were nearly $510,000, while employer contributions were just a little over $393,000!
Even in Right to Work states like Florida, federal labor law fosters Big Labor corruption by handing union officials inordinate power over the individual employee. The federal National Labor Relations Act and Railway Act grant union bosses monopoly power to negotiate with private-sector employers over how employees are managed and compensated in all 50 states.
State lawmakers have no say in this policy. They can’t do anything about it.
As a consequence of union monopoly bargaining, employees like the stevedores at Port of Tampa are almost completely dependent on union officials for their job security and pay increases. Recognizing that they have to rely on union bosses to defend their interests,regardless of how well they think Big Labor does the job, the overwhelming majority of unionized employees in Florida opt to join and pay dues.
No one should be surprised, then, if union chiefs like Local 1402 chief James Harrell think they can hurt workers without substantially diminishing the flow of union dues into their coffers. Monopolistic unionism and corruption go hand in hand.