AFSCME Minnesota Council 5 is one of the state’s largest government employee unions, representing more than 30,000 state, county, and municipal employees, as well as a smaller number of public sector workers. AFSCME is also among the most powerful political forces in Minnesota, providing manpower and money to liberal candidates and causes, and is arguably the face of organized labor in our state.
Eliot Seide, long-time executive director of AFSCME Minnesota Council 5, once wrote: “If every worker belonged to a union, America would be a place where labor was rewarded with respect on the job, wages that could raise a family, health care if people got sick, and a dignified retirement.” Indeed, in Mr. Seide’s version of the world, government unions are the only line of defense for average workers against a vindictive and moneyed elite who value profit over people and even “let predatory lenders foreclose on our homes.”
But according to public records obtained from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), AFSCME Council 5 and its hard-charging boss can be every bit as ruthless and self-interested as the opponents they caricature.
Take, for example, the case of the Human Development Center, a Duluth-based employer who filed an Unfair Labor Practices complaint with the NLRB last year, accusing AFSCME of threatening employees and coercing them into authorizing automatic dues deduction.
In a Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment, the Human Development Center requested that the NLRB:
“requir[e] Respondent to cease and desist from threatening to seek employees’ termination without giving them lawful notice of their dues obligations; to cease and desist from coercing employees into authorizing payroll checkoff for dues payments; and to cease and desist from demanding that the Employer terminate employees for not paying dues without fully explaining employees’ legal obligations and without giving them an uncoerced choice of payment method…”
And there is a lengthy paper trail to support these allegations. Included in the NLRB records are copies of a “termination letter” sent on March 15, 2013 from AFSCME to at least eleven employees of the Human Development Center. AFSCME’s letters accuse the employees of being in arrears for one month’s union dues, and threaten that “a request for termination of your employment in 30 days will be sent to HDC within fifteen (15) days from the date of this letter.” Subsequently, AFSCME sent letters to Human Development Center demanding the immediate termination of several of those employees.
Amazingly, despite threatening their members’ livelihood over unpaid union dues, AFSCME never even informed these workers how much money they allegedly owed.
Ultimately, in settling the Unfair Labor Practices dispute, AFSCME was required to post a notice last month informing employees and members of their legal rights. In the notice, AFSCME pledges not to threaten, intimidate, coerce, retaliate against, or otherwise violate the rights of the people they represent.
If this all seems a bit incongruous, perhaps it’s because the same AFSCME bosses who threatened the livelihood of their own members for missing one month of dues are the same people who lobby the state legislature on issues ranging from mandatory sick leave to foreclosure protection to the forced unionization of home-based childcare workers, all in the name of protecting middle-class Minnesotans against the “War on Workers.”
In the halls of the State Capitol, Mr. Seide and his fellow labor leaders can often be heard chanting: “This is what democracy looks like!” A more honest rallying cry would be: “This is what hypocrisy looks like!”