In the spring of 2012, top officials of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB/AFL-CIO) faced media scrutiny for using workers’forced-dues money to pay themselves exorbitant salaries and secure plum jobs for their relatives.
For example, a May 12, 2012 Kansas City Star article by Judy Thomas, the newspaper’s projects reporter, pointed out that in 2011 IBB President Newton Jones had collected a total of $607,000 from the union in salary plus “reimbursements” for travel and other expenses.
Also in 2011, Mr. Jones’ brother Charles took in an IBB salary of $150,000 as director of the union’s “historical preservation department.” His sister Donna made nearly $100,000 as an IBB executive secretary. And Mr. Jones’ son Cullen, then just 23 years old, took in $173,000 in IBB disbursements for his contributions as a “video communications technician.” At least one more member of the Jones clan was also on the union payroll in 2011.
Temporarily feeling the heat largely as a consequence of a series of articles for the Star by Ms. Thomas, Mr. Jones agreed to “tighten his belt” in 2013. His compulsory dues-funded base salary fell to a “mere” $295,628.
But nothing really changed.
In a follow-up report for the Star published earlier this month, Ms. Thomas concluded that, based on the LM-2 report for 2016 that IBB kingpins recently had to file with the U.S. Labor Department, “things appear to have returned to business as usual” at union headquarters in Kansas City.
From 2012 to 2016, largely because of Big Labor work rules rendering rank-and-file IBB tradesmen uncompetitive with their union-free counterparts, IBB membership fell by roughly 7%, to just over 53,000. Meanwhile, Mr. Jones’ forced dues-funded base salary soared by 47% from 2013 to 2016. In 2016 alone, he raked in a total of nearly $757,000 in salary plus “reimbursements,” representing an even heftier 54% increase since 2013.
And last year, Mr. Jones’ wife, brother and son were all on the union payroll. In all, Mr. Jones and his family members were paid more than $950,000 in IBB salaries last year, plus another $650,000 in “reimbursements.” Relatives of other top IBB union bosses also continue to hold high-paying union jobs.
Many rank-and-file union members who spoke to Ms. Thomas expressed their dismay at the way IBB officials conduct their affairs, but added that they “feel helpless to change the culture.”
Craig Sparks, a retired Kansas City IBB member, told the reporter, “It’s all a family affair. They pay ridiculous salaries to these people. But they’re not playing with their money; they’re playing with our money.”
Despite open discontent among many ordinary workers and a long-running federal investigation of “questionable spending” by trustees of the IBB pension fund, Mr. Jones and his cohorts remain firmly entrenched at the helm of the union.
The fact is, federal policies granting union bosses monopoly-bargaining and forced-dues power over the workers they purportedly represent make Big Labor generally unaccountable to those workers. Compulsory unionism is why a man like Newton Jones feels free to exploit a relatively small union to enrich not just himself, but also multiple relations.
Every now and then, a crooked union boss gets caught in the act, but there can be no fundamental change in Big Labor’s culture of corruption until the federal and state laws authorizing monopolistic unionism are changed.
Pro-Right to Work U.S. Sen. John McClellan (D-Ark.) held dozens of Capitol Hill hearings on Big Labor abuses of power back in the late 1950’s. What he concluded still holds true today: “Compulsory unionism and corruption go hand in hand.”
This year, the U.S. Congress can take an important step towards restoring accountability for union officials by considering and adopting the National Right to Work Act (H.R.785 and S.545), which would repeal all the current federal labor law provisions that authorize forced union dues and fees.