ProgressOhio Gets By With a Little Help from Union Bosses

Brian Rothenberg
ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg

Labor union payments to far-left activist group ProgressOhio are approaching half a million dollars, U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) records reveal. ProgressOhio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg, whose job consists chiefly of railing against corporations and the wealthy, was paid $110,124 in 2011.

ProgressOhio exists to inform the public “about progressive ideas, values, and policies” while also “responding to media coverage and the public about non-progressive policies,” according to the nonprofit’s latest IRS filing.

It’s no coincidence that the issues of most importance to union bosses are also top priorities for ProgressOhio: the group has received $443,450 from unions based on the latest DOL data, and its board of directors is stacked with union officers.

Union payments to ProgressOhio are detailed in the following chart.

Union payments to ProgressOhio

The union political contributions and consulting payments shown here have helped keep ProgressOhio afloat since 2007.

In 2009, ProgressOhio reported revenue of $174,324 and expenses of $235,813, blowing through $61,469 of its $79,439 on hand from the previous year.

In 2010, ProgressOhio took in $318,360 and spent $329,645.

In 2011, Rothenberg’s salary was increased from $107,730 to $110,124 as the group received $594,271 and spent $596,276, exceeding its revenue for the third year in a row and entering 2012 with $4,856 in net assets.

Despite receiving more than $400,000 from labor unions over the past several years, ProgressOhio ended 2010 with barely enough cash on hand to cover Rothenberg’s first paycheck of 2011, and ended 2011 in even worse financial shape.

As of 2011, the following union leaders were members of ProgressOhio’s board of directors:

  • Ohio Education Association (OEA) Vice President Bill Leibensperger — 2011 pay: $182,809
  • Ohio AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Pierrette Talley — 2011 pay: $143,862
  • American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 8 Political and Legislative Director Robert Davis — 2011 pay: $107,705
  • Service Employees International Union (SEIU) District 1199 Public Affairs Director Monica Moran — 2011 pay: $91,787

Ohio news outlets frequently cite Rothenberg on political issues related to labor unions while overlooking proof that ProgressOhio is to a great extent paid for and directed by labor unions.

“We just fought this battle two years ago,” Rothenberg told NBC 4 in Columbus when asked about a June 4 hearing on workplace freedom. “The people of Ohio overwhelmingly said, ‘look, there’s labor peace. Labor unions have a place in our society, so do workers, why are we fighting these battles?’ So I don’t understand why we’re having this hearing.”

Rothenberg’s talking points come directly from union front group We Are Ohio, but NBC 4 did not identify Rothenberg as a leftist and made no allusion to ProgressOhio’s union ties.

ProgressOhio is considered a reputable source thanks to years of expenditures from the unions whose power to collect forced dues Rothenberg defends. Rothenberg’s media connections also help; he was hired to run ProgressOhio while working as communications director for the Ohio Democratic Party.

Other than the union officers and executives who sit on ProgressOhio’s board, what sort of “progressive” leaders are funding the group’s activities with workers’ union dues?

SEIU 1199 President Becky Williams was paid $122,112 in 2011. AFSCME Council 8 President John Lyall was paid $156,513 – one of a dozen AFSCME Council 8 officers and employees paid six figures.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel was paid $389,620 in 2012, and was 1 of 53 NEA officers and employees paid more than $200,000.

OEA President Patricia Frost-Brooks was paid $267,916 in 2012. A total of 119 OEA employees and officers were paid $100,000 or more.