Big Labor's Serial Scandals; on Labor Day, Remembrance of Things past.(OPED)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 2, 2002 | Go to article overview

Big Labor's Serial Scandals; on Labor Day, Remembrance of Things past.(OPED)


Byline: Joel Mowbray, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As we celebrate this Labor Day, we should take a look at the state of labor today and how we got to where we are. Never before has the work force held as much skill, flexibility, and individual power - and never before has there been less of a need for labor unions.

Labor unions are desperately clinging to life at a time when they are 70 years past their prime - and their continued relevancy. Labor unions no longer fight for the big issues such as minimum workplace protections. The big fights almost always revolve around the unions trying to keep their members from enjoying tighter relationships with employers.

Remember the UPS strike a few years back? The main dispute behind the massive work stoppage was control over workers' pensions. The union wanted to maintain the old-school status quo, and UPS wanted workers to have the same 401(k)s that are desired by almost everyone. The union, of course, sold its members a red herring, and it prevailed in the end.

In the past few months, a far more disturbing trend than mere irrelevancy has developed. Big Labor has notched two major sets of scandals, which taken together, interestingly mimic, respectively, the messes at Enron and Arthur Andersen.

Big Labor's Enron occurred at ULLICO - formerly Union Labor Life Insurance Co. - where the fat cats on the board of directors were allowed to sell shares at a dramatically high price that they themselves set, while the rank-and-file workers were locked out from selling those very same shares.

ULLICO began investing in high-flying telecom stocks, primarily Global Crossing, as part of its transformation from its roots as a life insurance provider for blue-collar union workers into a financial services company, investing the money of pension funds from unions around the country.

ULLICO's metamorphosis included making ULLICO itself an investment vehicle for various union pension funds, as well as for those sitting on its 32-member board of directors - all of whom are heads of major unions. In 1997, ULLICO changed its longstanding policy of offering its privately held shares for a nominal, fixed price of $25 each. Share prices were adjusted annually - a seemly infinite amount of time in the roller-coaster financial world - with new prices decided each May based on an independent audit of the books of the previous calendar year. …

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