Pennsylvania

Is A Pennsylvania Public Union Misreporting Its Lobbying Activities?

Organizations
UFCW Local 1776 President Wendell W. Young IV

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union Local 1776 made contributions to known lobbyists and lobbying firms in 2013 but filed those contributions under the category of “representational activities” instead of “political activities and lobbying,” according to its annual report to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

Additionally — as Media Trackers Pennsylvania previously reported — Wendell W. Young IV, president of UFCW, is not registered to lobby with the state despite regularly visiting, emailing, and calling state legislators to influence their votes on proposed legislation.

UFCW represents about 4,000 state employees who work for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). The union has been heavily fighting legislation to privatize Pennsylvania’s liquor sales. UFCW has run a statewide advertising campaign against liquor privatizations and has paid several “consultants” regarding PLCB activities. Many of those consultants are registered lobbyists.

The UFCW filed both last year’s advertising campaign against liquor privatization and the “consultant” payments under “representational activities.”

The U.S. Department of Labor, in its instructions for filing form LM-2, defines “representational activities” as “the labor organization’s direct and indirect disbursements to all entities and individuals during the reporting period associated with preparation for, and participation in, the negotiation of collective bargaining agreements and the administration and enforcement of the agreements made by the labor organization… The union must also report disbursements associated with efforts to become the exclusive bargaining representative for any unit of employees, or to keep from losing a unit in a decertification election or to another labor organization, or to recruit new members.”

The section on “Political Activities and Lobbying,” on the other hand, deals with disbursements relating to the passage of legislation and the financial support of political candidates.

While it might seem like a minor difference in classification, it goes much deeper than that. For those paying fair share fees — employees who have opted out of union membership but still pay a portion of dues for collective bargaining costs —”representational activities” are chargeable activities but “political activities and lobbying” are nonchargeable. That is, non-member fair share fees cannot legally be used for political activities but can be used to cover representational costs.

“All the people that have said, ‘I don’t support my union’s political activities,’ still have to pay for representational activities,” Vincent Vernuccio told Media Trackers. Vernuccio is the Director of Labor Policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

So, if money spent on lobbying or politics is filed under “representational activities,” employees who have opted out of union membership are still paying for those political activities they originally wanted to avoid funding.

Vernuccio pointed to the 2012 Supreme Court case Knox v. Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 1000, in which a California union was opposing two ballot measures and raised employee fees— for members and non-members alike — to pay “for a broad range of political expenses, including television and radio advertising, direct mail, voter registration, voter education, and get out the vote activities.”

“The rationale was, ‘We are opposing this ballot measure because it’s going to cut funding from public employees,'” Vernuccio said.

But the Supreme Court ruled against SEIU Local 1000.

“[The] effect of the SEIU’s procedure was to force many nonmembers to subsidize a political effort designed to restrict their own rights,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the Court’s decision.

Alito went on to write that the union was using too broad a definition of “chargeable activities.”

“[The] SEIU argues broadly that all funds spent on ‘lobbying… the electorate’ are chargeable,” he wrote. “But ‘lobbying… the electorate’ is nothing but another term for supporting political causes and candidates, and we have never held that the First Amendment permits a union to compel nonmembers to support such political activities.”

Similarly, the UFCW has been opposing liquor privatization and charging its members and non-members for that political opposition by filing those expenses under “representational activities.”

“If they are using it for a fight against [liquor privatization], you could make a compelling case that it’s not a representational activity,” Vernuccio told Media Trackers.

UFCW claimed $454,000 had been spent on “lobbying and political activities” last year.

However, the union did not claim as a political expense $983,000 in payments to Strategic Communications for statewide radio and TV advertising last year aimed at derailing the proposal to end the state monopoly on liquor sales and privatize the sale of alcohol in Pennsylvania.

Strategic Comm

Nor did it report payments of $110,000 to Shelly Communications and $79,000 to Long, Nyquist & Associates as lobbying expenses, even though both are well known Harrisburg-based lobbying and communications firms, and both are registered with the Department of State to lobby on behalf of UFCW Local 1776.

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 13 made a similar payment of $32,251 to Shelly Communications last year for “communications,” but filed it under “political activities and lobbying.”

The UFCW, however, listed those payments as “representational activities” in 2013.

Shelley Comm Long

Former state Sen. Joe Conti, a Bucks County Republican who became Chief Executive of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), was paid $20,520 as a “consultant” to the union on PLCB activities. That, too, was for “representational activities”, according to the UFCW. Conti is a registered lobbyist.

Conti

Another $72,287 paid to lobbyist John O’Connell and Emerald Strategies was also listed as “representational activities,” despite the fact O’Connell and Emerald Strategies are also registered with the state to lobby on UFCW’s behalf.

Emerald

Currently, the UFCW is running a $300,000 radio and television advertising campaign aimed at thwarting legislative efforts to allow the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores and convenience stores.

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