Revealed: How union bosses have gone from fighting “the man” to being “the man”

My co-blogger Phineas touched on this topic here, linking to a must-read piece from Chi-Trib columnist John Kass, but I wanted to expand a bit on the issue after reading a couple of related Chi-Trib stories that will get your blood boiling just as it did mine, Phineas’, and John Kass’. 

You know, back in the old days when organized labor first started out, unions had a purpose in fighting for “worker’s rights” like better working conditions, fair pay, decent benefits, restrictions on child labor, etc – and the object of their dissatisfaction was “the man” aka “the boss”, who was perceived – in some cases accurately – as a Scrooge of sorts when it came to workers rights at the time.

But over the course of several decades, as organized labor became, well, more organized, sea-changes occurred within the movement as union bosses became more powerful and influential as a result of a political marriage of sorts between unions and politicos (and mob bossees), and due to the manipulation of the minds of gullible, vulnerable union members about how “the man” was “srewing you” – all of which became commonplace as a way for union bosses to stay in power (which, in turn, made sure those generous paychecks keep coming in).  In essence, over time unions became less about “fairness” for union members in the workplace and more about “sticking it to the the man” because while “the man” owned a mansion and a corporate jet, you didn’t.  This was the way that union bosses kept union members stirred up, and it continues that way to this day – especially when it comes to public sector unions.

That, of course, is a very short, very condensed version of the history of unions in this country, but the point behind it isn’t to talk in depth about union history but instead to give that background in order to contrast for you just how far unions have come from what they used to be about.    Workers are more about punishing “the man” and “getting their fair share” (at your expense and mine) than about wage/benefit/workplace equality/fairness in general.   Union bosses, of course, feed off of this mentality, encouraging workers to strike and to “get in the faces” of the opposition  if their demands aren’t met – knowing all the while that while striking workers are making no money standing on picket lines, and in some cases breaking the law and getting themselves thrown into the slammer, the money will still roll in for the fatcat Big Labor power brokers who greedily count their dollars in the comfort of their home(s).   The stories done by the Chi-Trib/WGN-TV have exposed this in living color (bolded emphasis added by me):

All it took to give nearly two dozen labor leaders from Chicago a windfall worth millions was a few tweaks to a handful of sentences in the state’s lengthy pension code.

The changes became law with no public debate among state legislators and, more importantly, no cost analysis.

Twenty years later, 23 retired union officials from Chicago stand to collect about $56 million from two ailing city pension funds thanks to the changes, a Tribune/WGN-TV investigation found.

Because the law bases the city pensions on the labor leaders’ union salaries, they are reaping retirement benefits that far outstrip the modest salaries they made as city employees. On average, their pensions are nearly three times higher than what the typical retired city worker receives.

No one from either the state Legislature or city government will take credit for the law, which passed in 1991, and the process of drafting pension legislation in Springfield is so shrouded in secrecy that there’s no way of knowing exactly whom to hold responsible.

Wow. Imagine that.

Here’s more on Gannon’s pension.  Warning: If you’re prone to fits of high blood pressure, do NOT proceed:

Most city workers spend decades in public service to build up modest pensions. But for former labor leader Dennis Gannon, the keys to securing a public pension were one day on the city payroll and some help from the Daley administration.

And his city pension is more than modest. It’s the highest of any retired union leader: $158,000. That’s roughly five times greater than what the typical retired city worker receives.

In fact, his pension is so high that it exceeds federal limits and required the city pension fund to file special paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service to give it to him.

Gannon’s inflated pension is a prime example of how government officials and labor leaders have manipulated city pension funds at the expense of union workers and taxpayers. Like other labor leaders, he was able to take a long leave from a city job to work for a union and then receive a city pension based on a high union salary.

But in a new twist, a Tribune/WGN-TV investigation has found that Gannon is eligible for the lucrative pension deal only because City Hall rehired the former Streets and Sanitation Department worker for a single day in 1994, then granted him an indefinite leave of absence.

Gannon quickly rose to become one of the most powerful labor leaders in the city, speaking on behalf of more than 300 Chicago-area unions as president of the Chicago Federation of Labor.

State law allowed Gannon to retire from the city in 2004, the year he turned 50; since then, he has received about $1 million from his city pension. He stands to collect approximately $5 million during his lifetime, according to an analysis based on the fund’s actuarial assumptions.

Until last year, that pension came on top of Gannon’s union salary, which had grown to more than $240,000. He now draws the pension while working for a hedge fund, Grosvenor Capital Management, that does work with public pensions, including the Teachers Retirement System of Illinois. The firm also was one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s largest campaign contributors.

We talk an awful lot about the selfish nature of many rank and file union workers, especially the ones who think harassment, intimidation, and violence is an acceptable substitute for substantive debate, but I suspect the “gimme mine” nature of unions as they currently exist wouldn’t be nearly as widespread and common if it weren’t for Big Labor bosses who, like liberals have to so-called “minorities” over the years, have portrayed the workplace to union members as a hostile “them versus us” atmosphere, and by gosh you need to get all you can out of “the man” – even if it comes at the expense of your fellow employees and/or taxpayers.   And when Governors try to curb union excesses and luxury items in hard economic times, union bosses use that as an additional “black mark” against “the man” that rank and filers  “must fight against.” As a result, you have an entitlement mentality in unions across the country that is just as bad, if not worse, than the entitlement mentality of non-union members who live off the government dole day in and day out, year in and year out.  “SCREW YOU! I WANT MINE!” should be their slogan.

Needless to say, this has got to stop.  A good way to bring about such meaningful change would be to hand pink slips to this administration come November 2012, starting with our our union-friendly celebrity President who, as Phineas noted in his post, “cut his political teeth in [the Illinois political] swamp.” 

How many days til the 2012 elections, again?

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