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Union of Scofflaws

After the defeat of Proposition 75, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s failed attempt to limit public unions’ ability to engage in political activity, Ron Senger decided to ask about how his union dues were being spent.Senger, a streetlighting engineer with the Department of Public Works and a member of the Engineers and Architects Association (EAA), went down to the City Clerk’s Council and Public Services Division and asked to see EAA’s financial reports, which are required by the city administrative code to be filed within 60 days of the end of each fiscal year. A clerk told him that EAA had not filed a report since 2003. He then called EAA and told a representative that he wanted to come by and look at the books.Senger was dismayed, he says, when EAA staff coordinator Angel Calvo invited him into a room and talked at length, but declined to show him EAA’s balance sheet from last year. Senger became incensed, he says, when EAA’s assistant executive director Patricia Loparo entered the room, told Senger the meeting was over and threatened to call security if he did not leave.“Calvo was a nice guy, kind of like a used-car salesman, but he kept insisting that no one really wants to see how the sausage is made,” Senger said on Tuesday, adding that he is considering legal options, including filing an unfair labor practices action with the Employee Relations Board. “I don’t know what all the secrecy is about.”Complicating matters is that EAA, which has been without a contract since June 2004, has been threatening to strike if the city does not pay its members the same as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 18, whose members earn up to 60 percent more than other city workers. About 90 EAA members demonstrated at the airport on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. On Tuesday, 300 EAA members picketed at the Department of Water and Power headquarters, where 95 percent of the employees are IBEW members. Senger, who has worked for the city for 15 years, said he supports parity with IBEW, but he sees a disconnect between EAA and its members, a white-collar work force of more than 8,000 that includes police crime lab workers, airport runway supervisors, management analysts and computer technicians. “They are trying to represent people who are trained to ask questions, but they don’t want to share information,” he said. “They want us to rally and wear strike T-shirts. Yet they communicate through propaganda.” EAA’s executive director Robert Aquino did not return calls for comment. Nor did Calvo or Loparo. Last Friday, after the Weekly reported that EAA members and city labor leaders were questioning Aquino’s credibility and being skeptical of his bargaining methods, EAA president Michael Davies lashed out: “Talking to a journalist is one thing, but a gossip columnist is another,” he said, when invited to discuss his concerns on behalf of EAA. On Tuesday, Davies declined to answer calls for comment on Senger’s experience.Doug Collins, former head of the Employee Relations Board and now a private arbitrator in Hermosa Beach, says he is not surprised by Senger’s experience or the reaction by EAA’s president. “With most unions the books are open,” Collins said. “Ever since this new crowd has taken over EAA it’s been quite different. You can speculate about reasons, but it’s obvious there is a small group of people in charge and they want to maintain control.”Prompted by Senger’s report of his experience, the Weekly visited the city clerk this week to see whether EAA had filed its financial report for 2004. The file contained a letter from City Clerk Frank Martinez to the EAA, dated March 17, 2005, stating that EAA is “delinquent in filing its information” required by Section 4.820 of the city administrative code. The last time EAA filed a financial report was July 30, 2003, after receiving a similar notice of delinquency on May 29, 2003, from former City Clerk J. Michael Clarey. EAA also had received notices in 2001 and 2002 urging it to file information with the city. Before that, EAA had not filed a financial report with the city since 1997.EAA is not alone. A review of city files on “qualified recognized employee organizations” — unions that collect dues from members and represent those members in collective-bargaining efforts — reveals that most unions flout the legal requirements for providing financial reports to the city. Which means that union members like Ron Senger, if they want to know more about where their paycheck deduction is going, have to confront their leaders and ask for answers.Of the 20 union files reviewed, only eight contain current financial reports. Almost all contain letters from Martinez sent out in March, reminding union leaders of their overdue obligation to file financial reports. IBEW Local 18 and Service Employees International Union Local 347, two of the city’s largest and most influential unions, filed financial reports in the last 12 months. All-City Employee’s Association Local 3090 filed a current financial report as well. Teamsters Local 911 is up-to-date. So is the Los Angeles Police Command Officers Association and the Los Angeles Port Police Association.Some notable delinquents include the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which doesn’t have a single financial report on file with the city. The United Firefighters of Los Angeles Local 112 last filed a financial report in June 2003.Then there’s the Los Angeles City Professional Medical Employees Local 2006, which has not filed a financial report since 1990, according to city files. The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 501 last filed in 2003 after receiving a delinquency notice, and before that it had not filed since 2000. The Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association has not filed since 2003, when it filed a financial report from 2002, but it offered an excuse: “Due to the high alerted security status at Los Angeles Airport, our response has been delayed,” states a July 10, 2003, letter from union president George Jarvis to Konrad Carter in the City Clerk’s Office.Asked why so many unions ignore the law, Collins says, “Because they can get away with it. No one has ever rigorously enforced the law.” City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and City Clerk Frank Martinez did not respond to requests for comment. Assistant City Administrative Officer Royce Menkus told the Weekly, “This dates back many years, and we’ve never come up with an enforcement mechanism. We assume unions complied unless we’re told otherwise.”The information gap has its limitations. Employees can opt out of paying dues and instead pay an agency fee that is supposed to be less than union dues. State law requires unions to disclose financial information to employees who pay agency fees.But along with union dues come voting rights and, theoretically, the right to participate in what the union is doing with its members’ money. Collins says one of the biggest lies of the Prop. 75 campaign was to tell union members they could choose not to pay dues intended for political purposes. “The only way to do that is to leave the union,” he said.For now, people like Senger have a choice: pay dues and take what information the union offers, or opt out of union dues and receive financial reports as a nonmember — provided the union complies with state law better than most do with city law. Senger says he wants to remain a member; he just doesn’t want his money spent on political campaigns he doesn’t support.That battle is over, however. If Senger wants to fight a new battle, he’ll have to take it up with the Employee Relations Board.