The Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia published a fascinating article yesterday with the headline, “AFT finds $23K in ‘personal’ purchases at union local; seeks to handle ‘confidentially’.”
In my experience, misappropriation of union dues happens at about the same frequency as similar offenses in the private sector. A typical incident occurs in small locals like this one where a single person has control of the checkbook and there is little oversight.
The perpetrators are usually nabbed because they fail to pass up the chain the state and national unions’ share of the dues they collected. That appears to be the case here.
AFT West Virginia discovered that its Greenbrier County local had made almost $23,000 in purchases that “appear to be personal in nature,” and was left with $8.78 in the bank. AFT WV took over the local’s finances.
In what appears to be a minor case of embezzlement, the union then employed a major arsenal of public relations obfuscation, misdirection and pleading of ignorance.
A letter from AFT WV staffer Christine Barr to the Greenbrier local was leaked to reporter Jake Zuckerman, and to his credit he doggedly sought union officials to comment on it.
“We desire to resolve any and all discrepancies and to make the local union whole,” Barr wrote. “We are more than willing to remedy this situation confidentially.”
They apparently succeeded in that part. The local’s president and treasurer, both of whom had resigned, would not comment.
“All that I can tell you at this moment is that their account is clear, the money for that local is in their treasury, and that’s all I can tell you at this moment,” said AFT WV president Fred Albert.
He would not tell Zuckerman how the union was repaid, and claimed members were not being kept in the dark.
“If it did occur, I think that we are about transparency and disclosing anything, but I’m not sure that anything has been proven to that effect,” he said.
Christine Campbell was president of AFT WV while the misuse of funds was going on. She told Zuckerman she did not know anything about it, even though the state takeover of the local occurred during her tenure.
Campbell said she thought the local officers resigned because “they opposed the [2018 teacher] walkout while their local members supported it,” Zuckerman reported.
Yes, the cherry on top is that all of this activity occurred during the summer of 2018 and it is only now making its way outside of union headquarters.
One silver lining: somehow the Greenbrier local was able to operate with only $8.78 in the bank. Sounds to me like members are entitled to a dues reduction.