Organized labor has steadily lost the power it once had to improve the lives of working people, and that didn’t happen by accident, but as part of a coordinated, expensive effort over many years.
So it’s especially unfortunate that the Boilermakers union based here in Kansas City continues to be further undermined by the excesses of its own leadership.
Five years ago, The Star investigated the union and found over-the-top spending and an under-the-table lack of accountability.
In response, top executives of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers made a show of cutting their own salaries and expenses, and eliminating some positions.
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But then, as a recent follow-up by The Star uncovered, they went right back to spending patterns straight out of the “negative stereotypes about unions” cartoon coloring book.
As The Star reported, they returned to “six-figure salaries for officers and their relatives. Fine dining, stays in posh hotels and expensive hunting retreats. Cars as parting gifts for retired employees, and hundreds of thousands spent on promotional events and videos. All while membership continues its downward spiral and the pension fund struggles to stay afloat.”
This is no way to represent the interests of the American and Canadian workers who assemble, install and repair boilers and fit pipes, and build power plants and ships. Their members deserve better.
It is an excellent way, however, to ensure that their union continues its damaging slide into irrelevance.
In 2012, President Newton B. Jones made more than leaders of the largest unions in the country, with salary and expenses of more than $607,000.
And now? His salary and expenses were $756,973 in 2016. His wife, brother and son are on the payroll. The group’s seven top officials cost the union more than $3.5 million.
The union’s leadership is so cavalier about its stewardship that it didn’t bother to respond to The Star’s findings.
But back in 2012, the union said in a letter that compensation is voted on by members and that hiring relatives is part of the union’s culture.
It sure is, and that nepotism partly explains why that culture is dying, with membership slipping from 57,203 in 2012 to 53,287 in 2016.
Union officers are not only frittering away the dues and the trust of their members on expensive meals and hotel stays. They are taking advantage of taxpayers, too, since like most unions, the Boilermakers are a tax-exempt nonprofit.
It’s run like a family business, critical union members say. And it’s one that won’t survive if it doesn’t stop throwing away money on five-star Paris hotel stays and convention planning trips to Maui.