The perks of being a union executive

posted at 6:51 pm on December 3, 2012 by Mike Antonucci

We tend to pay a lot of attention to what teachers’ unions spend on politics, but even that lofty amount pales in comparison to what they what they spend on themselves. Like teaching, union work is a labor-intensive enterprise. Unlike teaching, the structure of union benefits resembles an inverted pyramid, where a lot of people receive similar perks and only the lowest level employees receive standard workplace accommodations.

Wage amounts are usually public record, but are perilously difficult to pin down. What a union executive makes can be inflated in the record by sick leave accrual or severance payouts, or can be understated because of tax deferments or allowances in lieu of pay. Still, with that caveat in place, an examination of 2010-11 tax records reveals wages of the highest paid employees of the National Education Association and its state affiliates – defined here as the money reported in box 1 of a W-2 form – ranged from almost $540,000 down to less than $92,000.

Financial records also show that certain perks are common among NEA and state affiliate executives, while others are controversial even in the corporate world.

Housing allowances are prevalent. Union officers often will receive a cash payment to cover the costs of maintaining a home near union headquarters, usually located in the state capital. Some affiliates actually provide a home. Which officers receive a housing allowance and for how much varies from state to state, but it ranges from 20 percent of salary all the way down to $800 per month.

One would expect the union to cover the costs of executive travel, but some affiliates allow first-class travel and many also reimburse for the cost of companion travel – in one case up to $2,000 per year. Unions have been known to reimburse officers for home, pet and garden care while they are away on business, although it isn’t known whether these kinds of perks have survived recent budget shortfalls. Auto allowances and gas cards are also common.

A growing number of officers receive payment for annual health or social club dues and initiation fees, with one affiliate offering up to $1,000 a year in “wellness-related expenses.” A handful of affiliates also provide the president with a discretionary spending account or clothing allowances.

Accounting for these varied forms of compensation can get complicated, so some unions provide free tax preparation. At least one affiliate even offers relief if a union officer’s accumulation of previously deferred payments or leave buy-outs leads to higher tax obligations – in the form of the “gross-up” payment.

If you are unfamiliar with the term, that’s when the employer picks up the tab for the additional tax the employee will have to pay for a unusually large lump sum payment. Of course, the “gross-up” payment itself is taxable, so it is often made large enough to help cover that extra tax as well. The practice has come under fire in corporate America, so it’s ironic to see it turn up in a union.

Since much of this alternative compensation is hidden, it will be difficult to discern how much it will be affected by membership losses and budget cuts. When revenues can’t cover payroll, union staffers are laid off. But executive officers are elected. Some have accepted pay freezes, but I haven’t heard any talk of rolling back these kinds of benefits. If done, it will be done quietly, so as not to alert the rank-and-file to their existence in the first place.


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The perks of being a union executive

You get to be the first in line when it starts burning? L.I.B (Let it burn) Burn baby Burn…

SWalker on December 3, 2012 at 6:56 PM

These figures don’t seem outrageous, considering the NEA’s size (3 million members, per their web site). How do these wages/benefits compare with top executives in other similarly sized non-profit groups?

cam2 on December 3, 2012 at 7:04 PM

Unions are basically a business–the only one not taxable. Also, under and by certain Federal laws, union violence during a strike cannot be prosecuted as a criminal offense.

Liam on December 3, 2012 at 7:07 PM

You could also end up like Jimmy Hoffa Sr.

listens2glenn on December 3, 2012 at 7:09 PM

The Ultimate Parasite.

Government backed extortion…

BigWyo on December 3, 2012 at 7:18 PM

For comparison, here are the figures for a couple of business associations:

Union compensation is still a fraction of that paid to heads of Washington’s big trade associations. John Castellani of the Business Roundtable had a compensation package of $1.4 million in 2009 and Thomas J. Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce made $3.7 million. Castellani has since departed.

http://www.publicintegrity.org/2011/03/03/2097/scores-union-leaders-earn-six-figure-salaries

cam2 on December 3, 2012 at 7:18 PM

The number of members isn’t as relevant as the number of employees, which is about 550.

Mike Antonucci on December 3, 2012 at 7:19 PM

Additionally, the revenues of the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable are generated by voluntary member businesses, not the dues money extracted from individual teachers.

Mike Antonucci on December 3, 2012 at 7:21 PM

cam2 on December 3, 2012 at 7:04 PM

Do you mean compared to privately held corporations that derive their income from actually producing something as opposed to operating a racket that leeches of the very people they represent?

BigWyo on December 3, 2012 at 7:24 PM

These figures don’t seem outrageous, considering the NEA’s size (3 million members, per their web site). How do these wages/benefits compare with top executives in other similarly sized non-profit groups?

cam2 on December 3, 2012 at 7:04 PM

Parasites are parasite and Unions especially the NEA are host killing parasites.

SWalker on December 3, 2012 at 7:24 PM

Parasites are parasite and Unions especially the NEA are host killing parasites.

SWalker on December 3, 2012 at 7:24 PM

There isn’t a parasite that doesn’t inevitably kill the host. All in between is simply theft.

Liam on December 3, 2012 at 7:29 PM

My father (may he rest in peace) wanted me to be a machinist and he offered one big tip should I do so — become the union steward for your work unit and you’ll be immune from discipline (writeups) or lay offs.

This is a variant on his theme.

unclesmrgol on December 3, 2012 at 7:46 PM

…C R O O K S…!!!

KOOLAID2 on December 3, 2012 at 8:15 PM

Unlike teaching, the structure of union benefits resembles an inverted pyramid, where a lot of people receive similar perks and only the lowest level employees receive standard workplace accommodations.

Those low-level peons (read suckers) are the ones bussed in to be nasty vile mobs dressed alike in brightly colored tees.

Happy Nomad on December 3, 2012 at 8:18 PM

My father (may he rest in peace) wanted me to be a machinist and he offered one big tip should I do so — become the union steward for your work unit and you’ll be immune from discipline (writeups) or lay offs.

This is a variant on his theme.

unclesmrgol on December 3, 2012 at 7:46 PM

A variant, yes. But let’s not forget that the NEA and AFT are bleeding members stemmed only by the pay-offs from the Department of Education so that states can keep more teachers on the union rolls. The fact of the matter is that the teachers’ union is the next Govt. Motors. The numbers are becoming unsustainable with fewer and fewer peons paying in to keep the lords of the realm living the lifestyle Michelle Obama can only dream of as she jets off on a $4M vacation.

Happy Nomad on December 3, 2012 at 8:22 PM

That’s the way Communism always works. All the pigs are equal, but some pigs are a LOT more equal all the rest.

logis on December 3, 2012 at 8:31 PM

These figures don’t seem outrageous, considering the NEA’s size (3 million members, per their web site). How do these wages/benefits compare with top executives in other similarly sized non-profit groups?

cam2 on December 3, 2012 at 7:04 PM

Champions of the little guy, making more than the US President?

They cry, “Poor, under-paid teachers!,” while picking those teachers’ pockets to pay for Jaguars, diamonds, & furs.

itsnotaboutme on December 3, 2012 at 9:16 PM

These figures don’t seem outrageous, considering the NEA’s size (3 million members, per their web site). How do these wages/benefits compare with top executives in other similarly sized non-profit groups?

cam2 on December 3, 2012 at 7:04 PM

Union members are essentially the customers of the union – not the employees of the union.
So in direct comparison, executives for major corporations should be (and essentially are) paid according to their customer base. In that case, try a comparison between the top union exec and the CEO of say Walmart, based on number of customers. Tell me how that math turns out for you.

But basically Mike Antonucci and SWalker hit the right answers. Union execs are paid with money confiscated from the workers, much of it involuntarily, while legitimate businesses sell a product to entirely voluntary customers.

dentarthurdent on December 3, 2012 at 9:28 PM

The Ultimate Parasite.

Government backed extortion…

BigWyo on December 3, 2012 at 7:18 PM

DITTO. That sums things up very well, BigWyo.

Unions ALSO, with government indifference, instruct if not require the practice of criminal behavior. The ethics involved are corrupt. Unions foster this.

Lourdes on December 3, 2012 at 10:09 PM

That’s the way Communism always works. All the pigs are equal, but some pigs are a LOT more equal all the rest.

logis on December 3, 2012 at 8:31 PM

…Castro with his castle by the sea for residence and his swelling bank accounts of BILLIONS in Luxembourg (which he calls his “salary” after sucking it off the Cuban nation for decades — his “reappropriated” “redistributed” “salary”)…Michelle Obama and her disgusting wastefulness of other people’s money to accommodate her vanity and lusts, same with her husband…

Communists, Socialists, always produce this “elite” few who, somehow, baffle the many “peons” (“workers” or “the people”) by dazzling them with their elitist vanity and indulgences and selfishness, so it is both who are to blame: those “elite” who feed off the “peons” and the “peons” for being so attracted to the shiny-false-idol.

Lourdes on December 3, 2012 at 10:18 PM

You could also end up like Jimmy Hoffa Sr.

listens2glenn on December 3, 2012 at 7:09 PM

My FAVORITE Movie Ending!!: “Hoffa”

I get a warm and squiglly inside just THINKING about it…..and my Jaw gets Loose!!

williamg on December 3, 2012 at 10:34 PM

We should do what Obamacare did to insurers by limiting their administrative costs to a small percentage of their budget. State laws which limit public sector union benefits for the head honchos will hit the government teat-sucking Hoffas of the world without the risk of demagoguing conservatives for “punishing teachers.”

blammm on December 4, 2012 at 8:18 AM

If the sheeple are weak and dumb enough to elect Obama twice, there’s no reason they shouldn’t pay a union executive $1million per year to send their union dues to the Democrats. Meanwhile, the sheeple continue to graze on pasture grass while Obama and the Union leaders are eating steak at their expense. It’s truly a cycle of stupidity on the part of the sheeple.

cajunpatriot on December 4, 2012 at 9:11 AM