Pennsylvania Food and Commercial Workers Union Has Misreported Lobbying Since 2011

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 1776 has been inappropriately filing political and lobbying expenses under “representational activities” since 2011.

Media Trackers first reported the out-of-place expenses on UFCW’s 2013 federal disclosure documents. Expenses that should be classified as “political activities and lobbying” are instead listed as “representational activities.” Similar expenses appear on UFCW’s 2011 and 2012 forms.

UFCW 1776 has been fighting against any and all legislation that would privatize the sale of liquor in Pennsylvania or diminish the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s (PLCB) hold on the liquor industry. It has paid lobbyists, lobbying firms and advertising organizations to oppose liquor privatization.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) defines “representational activities” as expenses related to collective bargaining and recruiting new members. The DOL defines “political activities and lobbying,” on the other hand, as expenses related to the opposition of proposed legislation and the support of politicians and political organizations.

UFCW 1776 President Wendell W. Young IV explained the union’s activities opposing liquor privatization fall under both categories, and UFCW chose to file them under “representational activities.”

“The lobbying directly related to opposing privatization is part of our job to represent our members that work in the wine and spirits shops,” Young told Media Trackers. “I can’t think of anything more directly related to representing them than trying to oppose the sale of those stores.”

“These are not general political activities that affect members,” he added. “These are representational issues.”

Commonwealth Foundation President Matthew Brouillette, however, said the distinction is very clear.

“Acting as if political ads are part of the collective bargaining process insults our intelligence and flouts the law itself,” he said in a statement. “No one is suggesting that Wendell Young and his union shouldn’t have a voice in policy debates. But he should have to play by the same rules as everyone else. And if he is misrepresenting his expenditures to not only state and federal agencies but also to his members and non-members, then he should be held accountable.”

In Pennsylvania, every employee within a union’s collective bargaining unit must pay dues even if they don’t want to be a member. Non-members pay a fair share fee — 60 or 70 percent of what the full union dues cost. Non-members are not required to pay for “political activities and lobbying” but are required to pay for “representational activities.”

So UFCW members and non-members alike are paying for this campaign against liquor privatization — something Young said they voted to do in 2011. Young said the union visited its wine and spirits members statewide beginning in late 2010 to vote on whether to raise union dues for an anti-privatization campaign. The vote was nearly unanimous, he said.

“It is completely funded out of the money the members voted to give,” he said.

UFCW 1776’s “representational activities” expenses increased from $4 million in 2010 to $5 million in 2013. And over half of that $5 million went to lobbyists, lobbying firms, and one ridiculous TV ad.

All of those expenses were filed under “representational activities” and include payments to Strategic Communications; Shelly Communications, Inc.; former state Sen. Joe Conti; lobbyist John O’Connell and Emerald Strategies, Inc.; and Long, Nyquist & Associates.

Many of those same names and firms appear on 2011 and 2012 reports.

Shelly Communications, Strategic Communications and Emerald Strategies appeared all three years under “representational activities” on federal disclosure reports as “PLCB Consultants.” Emerald Strategies CEO John O’Connell is registered with the state to lobby on UFCW’s behalf.

With a $300,000 radio and television advertising campaign currently underway, it remains to be seen if UFCW Local 1776 will file those expenses under “representational activities” or “political activities and lobbying” on its 2014 report.