Taxpayer-funded union programs: Scams and scandals

In a state with normal standards of honesty and transparency, the idea that millions of dollars in public funds could be used without any scrutiny for many years at a time would seem goofy. But that's in a normal government. In California, where hegemonic union power is a de facto constant of life, stunning stories like this barely raise an eyebrow:

“Brian D'Arcy, head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's largest employee union, is heading to court to try to fight a subpoena ordering him to explain how two nonprofits he co-manages have spent more than $40 million in ratepayer money since 2000.

“D'Arcy sent a letter to City Controller Ron Galperin and City Atty. Mike Feuer on Friday announcing his intention to ask a judge to stay enforcement of the subpoena, which was issued last week. D'Arcy's lawyer has asked for a court hearing Tuesday morning. …

“The Joint Training Institute and the Joint Safety Institute were created after a tense round of job cuts at the city-owned utility in the late 1990s, and have received up to $4 million per year from ratepayers since. There has not been a public accounting of how the money has been spent.”

What about other union 'institutes'?

That's from the Los Angeles Times. But this sort of scam, in which California taxpayers prop up sham labor programs, is more common than people understand. This is from a 2007 UC press release.

“The University of California, Berkeley's Institute of Industrial Relations and Center for Labor Research and Education along with their counterpart programs based at UCLA will become affiliated with an umbrella virtual organization named for prominent state labor leader Miguel Contreras.

“The UC Board of Regents' Subcommittee on Educational Policy today (Wednesday, Jan. 17) unanimously approved a proposal for the move. It was submitted by ex officio UC Regent and State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D Los Angeles) in honor of Contreras, the former head of the 800,000 strong Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Contreras died in 2005 at the age of 52.

“During the Regents' meeting at UCSF's Mission Bay complex, union supporters, rank and file workers and others including Contreras' widow and labor activist Maria Elena Durazo, spoke about the significant contributions of Contreras as well as of UC's labor studies. UC President Robert Dynes, an ex officio member of the Regents, also spoke in support of affiliating the UC Berkeley and UCLA labor efforts with the Miguel Contreras Labor Program.

“The full Board of Regents is set to act on the matter during a meeting tomorrow (Thursday, Jan. 18).

“Contreras began union organizing at the age of 17 with the United Farmworkers Union, and became one of the most influential Latino leaders in Los Angeles. He also was a strong proponent of education, particularly for the children of low income workers. Contreras mentored many aspiring political leaders, including Nunez. …”

“In recent years, UC labor research has focused on employment trends, union density, health care policy, and job quality in immigrant and African American communities. Education programs have included leadership development programs for union leaders, and for women and people of color.”

Honoring … this guy?

I'm just so, so confident this is all about academics and not make-work jobs and the creation of phony “research” justifying what unions want.

Now here's the punch line: the circumstances of the sainted Miguel Contreras' death. This is what I wrote in 2007:

“Ten months ago, the LA Weekly broke a huge scoop about a cover-up of the lurid details in the mysterious 2005 death of one of California's most powerful men, labor leader Miguel Contreras. The newspaper documented that the cover story promoted about Contreras' sudden death at age 52 — that he suffered a heart attack while driving — was a lie. Instead, he died while at a small 'alternative medicine' shop that was later raided for prostitution in an area considered 'the most heavily trafficked prostitution corridor' in Los Angeles.”

“This misdescription of the circumstances of the demise of the executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor was no accident. Instead, the LA Weekly offered evidence of what appeared to be a concerted effort by powerful L.A. officials to hide the truth by blocking an autopsy — which is legally required in 'sudden or unusual deaths.' Then-L.A. Councilman Martin Ludlow hunted for a doctor at Centinela Freeman hospital to sign a death certificate, only succeeding after being rebuffed by two physicians. These were far from the only irregularities.

“After this story broke, something bizarre happened. Instead of the usual media frenzy of trying to get to the bottom of this obvious scandal, initial follow-up stories focused on the furious reaction of one of L.A.'s most prominent liberal pundits, Harold Meyerson, to the LA Weekly report. He blasted the story as a betrayal by a liberal newspaper 'that some of us hoped would help remake Los Angeles into a more humane and equitable city.'

“And guess what? All the media heeded him — not just the LA Weekly.

“A Nexis search of the few weeks after the story broke shows no substantive follow-up of any kind beyond an L.A. Daily News editorial saying Contreras appeared to only be the latest prominent local to benefit from 'celebrity justice.'”

Hypocrisy: The L.A. Times is in the Hall of Fame

Never forget this story any time the L.A. Times starts trotting out the sanctimony about any issue under the sun. And this shameful history isn't the fault of the editorial pages. It's on the Times' allegedly neutral and fearless newsroom.

The idea that Miguel Contreras is treated as an official hero by the UC system couldn't be more telling. That the media have gone along with it also couldn't be more telling.

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