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January 26, 2004
Union Leaders Paid Like CEOs

The Southern California region has suffered through a 15-week-long grocery worker's strike/lockout which has damaged everyone concerned -- the workers, the stores, and the customers. Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times notes that the group shouldering the most blame for the current stalemate receives eye-popping compensation for their recent mediocrity:

Take Rick Icaza, the head of Los Angeles-based Local 770, which has 30,000 members. Icaza earned $273,404 in 2002, the latest period for which the figure is available. That was nearly a 10% raise over the prior year. Icaza, 69, out-earned even John Sweeney, the national president of the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor organization. Sweeney earned a salary of $247,500 that year. ...

The phenomenon of overripe compensation at the UFCW starts with International President Douglas Dority, whose $329,792 made him the best-paid president among the AFL-CIO's 64 member unions in 2002. That's the case even though the UFCW is only the fifth-biggest union in the AFL-CIO and its members, whose dues provide the funds for its lavish payroll, are generally part-time hourly workers in a low-paying industry.

All of this compensation goes to two men who badly misjudged supermarket management and failed to understand that national chains have enough flexibility to absorb local labordisruptions. Rather than craft a national strategy, Hiltzik notes, Dority and Icaza decided that pre-consolidation tactics would still work and never bothered to plan in advance for failure at the bargaining table. Since labor representation to this one market is all Dority and Icaza do -- especially Icaza, as the president of the local -- one wonders exactly what they were being paid to do between labor agreements. Their compensation comes from the dues paid by thousands of low-to-medium pay-range workers, who should be questioning both the salaries paid to their union management and the value received from it.

Hiltzik expresses his indignation best when comparing Icaza and Dority to the local longshoremen's union, who successfully fought off management attempts to sideline the union:

International Longshore and Warehouse Union President James Spinosa, who fought off the port industry's attempt to break his 10,500-member union during a lockout in 2002 — while preserving free health insurance and obtaining improved pension benefits — earned a salary of $93,000 that year. (Like many other labor leaders, the ILWU's patriarch, the late Harry Bridges, believed that the union brass should never earn more than the average member, a principle that apparently failed to penetrate the UFCW.)

Another example is Mike Garcia, head of L.A.-based Local 1877 of the Service Employees International Union. He led the landmark Justice for Janitors campaign in 2000, which featured a strike, vigils and public rallies. In the end, the SEIU won huge gains for thousands of commercial building workers downtown. Garcia's pay: $68,438.

Garcia, Hiltzik notes, planned the janitors' action for over two years, carefully crafting a strategy of educating their membership and the public at large so that when action was needed, they held the political edge. It's hard to escape the conclusion that Dority and Icaza either didn't have a strategy at all or planned poorly for a strike of this magnitude. Southern Californians, both labor and customers, should expext better performance for the superstar salaries that the two top men receive.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 26, 2004 12:23 PM

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