As Membership Continues to Decline, an Epidemic of Embezzlement Plagues America's Unions
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017, 10.7 percent of all wage and salary workers are members of a union. Back in 1983, the first year that union membership statistics were measured by the Bureau, 20.1% of wage and salary workers were members. The Congressional Research Service goes back even further and reports that membership peaked at 34.8% in 1954.
Since 1954, the percentage of wage and salary workers who are members of a union has dropped by a staggering two-thirds. For an organization that funds itself with membership dues, the trend predicts a grim future.
And public sector unions now must contend with the Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME.
The Wall Street Journal writes, “Unions, which long have anticipated this day, have been preparing strategies to retain membership, but significant drops in support are likely.” Less support translates to less money coming from members who are no longer compelled to “contribute” their earnings to the union political machine. Jazz Shaw over at Hot Air has a great rundown of exactly how the unions’ political heft is about to be further neutered.
But what is happening to the declining sums of money the unions are taking in as their membership shrinks? Aside from sizable political contributions, it appears there is a national epidemic of embezzlement by union leadership grifters. Let’s take a closer look at what’s been going on around the country.
First stop is New York. Meet Aaron Collington: he’s the former president of the Troy, New York Police Union. Collington was accused of stealing $6,200 from the union bank account to pay his rent and was charged with third-degree grand larceny. The money he allegedly stole came from the Troy Police Benevolent Association’s bank account. Collington has pled not guilty.
Moving over to Massachusetts, we find Henry Clay Green, Sr. who was the former secretary treasurer of Unite Here Local 26 between 2011 to 2016. Mr. Green has pled guilty to embezzling more than $170,000 from his union:
As secretary treasurer, Green held sway over the union’s financial operations, and used his position to embezzle $171,455 from the union for his own use, authorities said. He confessed when confronted by union officials, according to prosecutors.
If your union salary isn’t large enough to cover you and your wife’s drug habit, you could do what Ryan Jones, former secretary treasurer of Maine’s Local S6 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, did: steal $280,865 from his union. “The former secretary treasurer of Bath Iron Works’ largest labor union was sentenced Monday to 18 months in prison for embezzling more than a quarter-million dollars from the union, largely to support his and his wife’s drug addiction.”
Perhaps you have loftier aspirations of grift. In that case, Raymond Ventrone of Pennsylvania might be your guy. Ventrone, a business manager for the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local 154, was charged with embezzling almost $1.5 million of union funds. “During his time as business manager, Ventrone embezzled the approximately $1,499,000 of union funds, according to investigators. He also allegedly evaded payment of income taxes on the embezzled money.” Ventrone was sentenced to three years and five months in federal prison for embezzlement and income tax evasion. “Among the things Ventrone bought with the money were Coco Lunette eyeglasses, drums, percussion instruments and musical accessories and furnishings for his son's apartment, U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady said Monday.”
Raiding union assets is not only an East Coast phenomenon. Say hello to Edward Padilla, former secretary-treasurer and business manager for the Bakersfield, California, office of a construction workers union. Padilla, who also served as president of his union, embezzled more than $160,000 according the federal court documents. “In addition, authorities said, Padilla made more than 200 personal expenditures on two of his union credit cards.” He faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine when he is sentenced in July.
In Arizona, Patrick Remigio, an official for the ICE Officers’ Union, has pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $170,000 in union monies in November of 2017:
The union chapter represents more than 400 ICE employees who enforce immigration laws in Arizona and Nevada. Employees of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which handles the legal immigration process, also are members.
Acting as both president and treasurer, Remigio controlled the debit and credit cards connected to the union chapter’s bank accounts from 2010 to 2013. He pleaded guilty to making numerous withdrawals from those accounts for his personal use via checks, bank transfers, cash withdrawals and credit card charges.
Remigio said he was “very sorry” and had “great respect” for his former fellow union members.
If you are noticing that all these grifters are men, hold tight. Ms. Jeni May Hughes of Jacksonville, Arkansas, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for embezzling more than $425,000 from her Local 155 Plumbers and Pipefitters Union:
Hughes served as the office manager for Local 155 for more than 15 years. Her official duties included collecting monthly dues from the organization’s roughly 900 members, depositing the funds, and maintaining Local 155’s ledger.
The official report states that on the eve of an outside audit in March 2016, Hughes abruptly resigned. In the weeks that followed, auditors gradually uncovered a $428,874.47 shortfall in union receipts. This prompted a formal Department of Labor investigation. It revealed that from January 2005 until her departure in March 2016 Hughes routinely failed to deposit Local 155’s cash dues, instead diverting the funds into her own personal account.
“The money [Hughes] stole came from our members and was to be used to train all members, provide health insurance, and a pension. The same benefits we provided for her.”
Flyover country is also represented in this list of union leadership grifters. Lafayette, Indiana’s Michael Bennett, the former president of the United Auto Workers Local 2317, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on three counts of theft of labor union assets and three counts of wire fraud. Mr. Bennett had embezzled more than $100,000 from his union over a five-year period. “According to court documents, Bennett forged the signature of the local UAW’s treasurer on the checks and either cashed the checks or deposited the money into his bank account.”
In Iowa, the former president of the United Dairy workers was sentenced to 12 months in prison for embezzling more than $95,000 from his union. “With the stolen money, Lang purchased gift cards that he used to buy a motorcycle, take vacations and go out to eat, among other expenditures.”
Running low on disposable income for Victoria Secret lingerie, Kay Jewelry baubles and Katy Perry concert tickets? Stephanie DeBoer, office manager and bookkeeper at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 876, pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $300,000 from the Montcalm County union:
The money was used to pay rent and to make payments on 16 personal credit accounts. The accounts included Verizon, Victoria's Secret, Kay Jewelers, Sam’s Club, Best Buy and Citibank. The embezzlement ran from at least 2012 through Sept. 2015 when she worked as bookkeeper and office manager, court records show.
“How was DeBoer able to steal so much money from the union? She took advantage of her position as the sole employee responsible for producing the union’s monthly financial reports and responding to audits,’’ Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Stiffler wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
Ms. DeBoer was sentenced to four years in federal prison in February of this year.
The above cases are only a partial review of the union embezzlement epidemic across America. In January of this year, the Detroit Free Press obtained U.S. Department of Labor documents showing there were hundreds of embezzlement cases around the country. “In just the past two years, more than 300 union locations have discovered theft, often resulting in more than one person charged in each instance, the records show.” The amount of money stolen from hardworking union members is massive. “Individual cases compiled by the Office of Labor-Management Standards last year cite theft and fraud ranging from $1,051 to nearly $6.5 million.”
The victims here are hard-working union members who pay their dues hoping the unions will be good stewards of their money. After the Janus decision, many will choose to opt out of paying union dues, but it's time unions are forced into transparency and for their financial disclosure requirements to be tightened up.