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Thursday, December 14, 2017
HomeAlaska NewsIn Alaska, it’s unions vs. workers in the private economy

In Alaska, it’s unions vs. workers in the private economy

Union made: Alaska Governor Bill Walker, and AFL-CIO Alaska President Vince Beltrami pose in this 2015 AFL-CIO photo. The union supported Walker, who has shut down private sector union jobs in favor of public employee unions. Unions supported Beltrami’s bid for state senate with dues converted to campaign contributions through a political action committee.

It’s been a tough few years for unions in Alaska. The dues have been siphoned off by bad actors. Membership is dropping. Unions backed a governor who caters to the green lobby and won’t build anything.

UNION DUES GO TO GAMBLING, BOOZE, MOM & MORE

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Jeffrey Davies, former president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 183 (railroad), was sentenced last month in Anchorage federal court to serve one year in prison and three years on parole for embezzling $92,000 in union funds between 2011 and 2014. He will also have to pay restitution of $92,766.

Ann Reddig, former secretary and treasurer of  the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 918 in Anchorage, was charged with embezzling more than $193,000 in union funds, plus a count of forgery.

Reddig is known in the Alaska theatrical scene. During the years when Alaska paid tax credits for filmmakers to use Alaska as a location, the little union that could grew from a few dozen stage hands to as many as 84. Reddig is accused of helping herself to the dues. With fewer than 50 members and about $45,000 in dues each year, the theft  just about broke the union’s back.

Then-union President Richard Benavides* noticed that his signature appeared on checks he didn’t remember signing, and that they were written out to people like Reddig’s mother — who had no connection to the union.

That’s when Benavides contacted U.S. Department of Labor, which conducted an investigation and concluded that Reddig was on the take.

Reddig was arraigned in U.S. District Court on July 13. She was released, with conditions, pending her trial.

In 2015, another former union secretary was sentenced in federal court in Juneau for embezzling funds from Carpenters Local Union 2247.

Jonathan H. Smith, 42, of Juneau, was given five years of probation, four months of that in community confinement, 250 hours of community work service, and restitution of $41,770.47.

Between June 2006 and May 2012, Smith held the post of financial secretary for the labor union, representing approximately 150 members.  An elected volunteer, he deposited dues in the union’s bank account, paid bills, and managed the day-to-day business of the union. Smith was also working as the Alaska Regional Council of Carpenters’ business agent, earning between $66,000 to $93,000. With his five-year streak of embezzling, he padded his lifestyle comfortably, with ATM withdrawals, bar tabs, restaurant meals, booze and shopping, as well as gambling in casinos in Las Vegas and Washington state.

In 2010, Kevin McGee was sentenced for misuse of union funds when he was president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3028. He double billed for travel and then tried to cover his tracks. McGee was given probation and had to pay restitution. Today he is the president of the Anchorage chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Between the four cases mentioned here, about $330,000 in union funds were embezzled from 2010 through 2015. That we know about.

UNIONS WASTED MONEY ON ANTI-PROGRESS CANDIDATES

With all the stealing going on, it’s no wonder that union membership is on the decline in Alaska, dropping to an all-time low. The Federal Bureau of Labor and Statistics released data in February showing that the union workforce is now just 18 percent of all Alaska workers, including government employee unions.

But even more stunning than the thefts are the amounts that unions have spent getting Democrats and Indie-Democrats elected. Unions are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into candidates that oppose the very projects that put unionized men and women to work in Alaska.

The AFL-CIO dedicated hundreds of thousands of its union dues to electing Gov. Bill Walker in 2014. But in the end, Walker kicked the unions while they were down by not approving shovel-ready projects, such as Juneau Access Project and Knik Arm Crossing. Other than his doomed gas pipeline dream, Gov. Walker has yet to get behind a single major infrastructure project.

Those two projects alone — Juneau Access and Knik Arm — would have employed hundreds of union-paying workers during a time of recession.

Then there’s Laborers’ 341 – Working Families of Alaska PAC, which also went all-in for anti-work Democrats and Indie-Democrats in the 2016 campaign cycle. The WFA-PAC contributions:

Opposed:

  • $ 2,498.14 – Cathy Giessel
  • $ 515.00 – Lance Pruitt

Supported:

  • $ 23,422.56 – Adam Wool
  • $ 1,500.00 – Bryce Edgmon
  • $ 17,946.54 – Dan Ortiz
  • $ 1,500.00 – Gabrielle LeDoux
  • $ 3,212.50 – Harriet Drummond
  • $ 37,740.02 – Harry Crawford
  • $ 3,212.50 – Ivy A Spohnholz
  • $ 49,598.88 – Jim Colver
  • $ 2,712.50 – Matt Claman
  • $ 65,544.20 – Vince Beltrami, AFL-CIO Alaska president who ran a failed campaign against pro-development Sen. Cathy Giessel.

AFL-CIO will have to beef up its credibility with the last remaining stronghold it has: Government workers. State of Alaska employees are about 40 percent union, which gives Beltrami tens of thousands of dollars to work with in union dues each year to elect more anti-development Democrats and kill more construction jobs. And there’s no doubt that’s where Beltrami is heading.

This doesn’t bode well for private-sector union workers, which by next year will see further job losses due to the “study-don’t-build” capital budget just signed by Gov. Walker.

On present trends, with private sector unions hemorrhaging membership as Alaska Democrats drift ever-leftward, the AFL-CIO Alaska chapter may face the need for a name change, to something like the AFGE — the Alaska Federation of Government Employees. Truth-in-labeling advantages would go there.

(*Benavides, well-known in political circles as a longtime legislative aide, died of cancer last month. Burial and services are Aug. 4.)

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • In reality, the AFL-CIO has very few true private sector members in Alaska or anywhere else. Most non-government unionized employers are in the so-called Third Sector, those businesses that rely on government. Examples are: regulated and government monopoly utilities, heavily regulated businesses such as oil refineries and nuclear power plants, similarly the auto industry is subject to heavy regulation and has to cooperate with unions in order to influence government, particularly in a Democrat federal administration, the defense and aerospace industries are both heavily dependent on government funding and particularly in civil aviation government regulation, shipbuilding because of government funding or in the case of civilian ships government regulation, still some transportation because it was once so heavily regulated, and the big one in Alaska, publicly funded or heavily permitted construction.

    Beltrami has a narrow window to maintain one of his largest membership blocks, employees working on State funded capital projects. I don’t have good numbers but my surmise is that there are still a couple of years worth of appropriated but unexpended Capital funds lying around that can be used to finish projects or provide a federal match. When those are gone it gets to be very slim pickings for union contractors and union labor; they’re basically left with federal construction, federally funded highway and facility construction, and perhaps some local government construction if any of them have the money. We don’t have Ted Stevens funneling federal money to Alaska any more and Alaska doesn’t have many friends in the US Congress. The Denali Commission a major federal conduit is under fire. The Native sole-source contracts program that saved Lisa Murkowski’s political life is under fire. Another source of union jobs is utility capital construction and that is already at almost a standstill. The jobs of the utilities linemen, wiremen, and the like are safe but anyone working in or supporting utility construction is at risk.

    When the work runs out, I don’t have a good sense of how many of the construction trades guys will just pack up their truck and go where there is some work and how many have strong enough ties here to stick it out and wait for better days, better days that might be a long way off. The ones that stay here are not going to be happy drawing unemployment and going to the union hall every day hoping for a dispatch, and the leaders of the construction trades unions will feel that unhappiness.

    Beltrami and his legislative allies have to keep a Governor and get the Senate so that they can get their hands on enough revenue to keep the unionized construction labor working or they’re headed for trouble in their own ranks. When the labor titans of the Pipeline Era couldn’t work the magic to bring a gas line project on right behind it, and then the Pipeline did just what it was built to do, collapse the OPEC price paradigm, the old boys weren’t titans any more and were soon history, some facing jail along the way. Right now Beltrami and Duncan are riding high; in terms of power in government higher than Jess Carr and Duane Carlson, the titans of the Pipeline Era, ever rode. But it is going to be a short ride if they don’t get their hands on a big chunk of the Permanent Fund’s earnings and maybe the Fund itself.

  • Why is it ok to have unions back politicians in the first place? I think being on side or the other is wrong. Whst happens if your a union member and they find out you voted for the other side they were lobbying for. It seems this is the reason why we spend so much money on capital projects. Politicians need to follow what Ron Paul did over the years as he ran for Congress and won. He never took a dime from lobbyists. I believe it gives an unfair advantage to those who want to do the right thing. Alaska will we ever do the right thing?