For a movement whose modern identity is defined by opposing various kinds of perceived inequality, the labor union movement can be surprisingly unequal in its treatment of those within its ranks.
The most recent example comes as a result of a campaign finance complaint the Freedom Foundation submitted to the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) in February alleging the Washington State Labor Council’s (WSLC) “PPP committee” failed to disclose certain political contributions it had received.
As the statewide entity of the AFL-CIO, most Washington unions affiliated with the national labor federation also affiliate with the WSLC.
Part of the WSLC’s political advocacy involves its “President’s Club,” described on its website as:
“…an organization established to raise political action funds and promote labor’s political action program. Members are invited to attend a special luncheon during the WSLC’s annual convention that will feature a distinguished guest speaker discussing the coming election. President’s Club membership is $150.”
Similarly, the WSLC’s directory of labor organizations describes the President’s Club as,
“…a group of labor leaders and activists who have made a $150 donation to a special political fund to help elect candidates and pass ballot initiatives that benefit working families in Washington.”
Under state law, contributions to the “PPP Committee” – the referenced “special political fund” – should be disclosed to the PDC. However, cross-referencing the list of President’s Club members in the WSLC’s 2014-15 and 2016-17 directories with the list of contributors to the PPP Committee revealed serious discrepancies.
- 206 persons and unions were listed as President’s Club members at some point between 2014 and 2017.
- In 73 cases, the records filed by the committee with the PDC show the person/union contributed at least $150 to the committee in the year(s) the person/union was listed as a President’s Club member in the WSLC directory.
- But in 133 cases, a person/union listed in the WSLC directory as a President’s Club member is reported to have contributed less than $150 to the committee in at least some of the years they were listed as a member.
- Of these 133 cases, 17 involve individuals listed in the WSLC’s directory as members of the President’s Club every year from 2014-17, but who do not show up in PDC filings as contributors to the committee at any point during this period.
In its complaint to the PDC, the Freedom Foundation pointed out,
“If the WSLC’s directory is accurate and every person/union listed as a President’s Club member gave the required $150 minimum each year they were listed as a member, then at least $38,680 in contributions to the PPP Committee between 2014 and 2017 were unreported.”
However, in its response to the PDC, the WSLC admitted that, “Notwithstanding language that might at times have appeared on WSLC’s website or in other places, receipt of $150 is not and has never been an absolute prerequisite to President’s Club status.” It claimed all contributions to the PPP Committee had been disclosed to the PDC. WSLC’s attorney neglected to mention the criteria used to determine who must pay and who doesn’t.
In other words, it appears the WSLC requires individuals to contribute $150 to the PPP Committee to join the President’s Club, unless the individual happens to have the favor of WSLC leadership, in which case membership can be conferred without a contribution.
As far as the WSLC is concerned, all union bosses are equal, but some are more equal than others.