Michael Kinsley once observed that “a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.” By that measure Michael Gittings, the treasurer of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 711, committed an enormous gaffe when he appeared in a recent Daily Show segment.
Gittings’s Las Vegas–based union is protesting Wal-Mart for paying low wages and hiring non-union workers. As he put it, such behavior “comes down to greed.”
Perhaps that is why his local outsources its protests of Wal-Mart to non-union workers and pays them the minimum wage. As Gittings admitted on air:
You are talking about the actual protestors? Those are temporary workers who are provided through a temporary employment agency. … You have to realize our union members are working. We don’t have union members that are able to go down there on a daily basis.
Protesting low-wage non-union labor with low-wage non-union labor? Ouch. The Daily Show exposé will probably ruffle many union feathers.
Fortunately, union members do not need to rely on Jon Stewart to find out if their union says one thing and does another. The law requires unions to disclose their spending to their members.
A quick check of Local 711’s financial disclosure forms reveals they spend a lot for rent-a-protests.* The union paid temporary help agencies a cool $250,735 for “picket line labor” in 2009. Rank-and-file members can debate the merits of protesting with non-union workers without waiting for The Daily Show to tell them about it.
Of course, that can make for some awkward conversations in the union hall. The president of nearby UFCW Local 7 lost his re-election bid after these financial disclosure forms revealed he had put his children on the union payroll.
That is why union leaders have lobbied Obama to gut these transparency regulations. Unfortunately, President Obama has decided to accommodate them. His Labor Department has begun rolling back the union financial transparency reforms of the past decade. Soon the only gaffes for the union movement to avoid will come on television.
* Enter file number 028-079 to access UFCW Local 711’s annual LM-2 report.