Trump administration sends rare warning to two major labor unions
Thomas Catenacci, DCNF
- The Department of Labor has sent “very rare” warning letters to United Steelworkers President Thomas Conway and American Federation of Government Employees President Everett Kelley.
- The Labor Department warned the unions that their local subordinates are “disproportionately subject to embezzlement” and said they must take steps to address widespread misconduct.
- USW and AFGE received the warnings because they have more criminal convictions since 1998 than any other labor union despite each being smaller than at least ten other unions, according to the Labor Department.
The Trump administration sent letters to the presidents of two major international labor unions warning that their organizations are “disproportionately subject to embezzlement.”
The Department of Labor (DOL) sent the letters, obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation, Oct. 6 to United Steelworkers (USW) President Thomas Conway and American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) President Everett Kelley.
DOL officials familiar with the letters who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter told the DCNF that this type of action is considered “very rare.”
Between 1998 and 2019, the DOL’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) has recorded 302 criminal convictions of union officers and employees who have embezzled money from USW subordinate bodies, the letter addressed to Conway said. In that same period, OLMS has recorded 196 criminal convictions of union officials embezzling money from AFGE subordinate bodies, according to the letter sent to Kelley.
USW and AFGE have more criminal convictions in that past two decades than any other international labor union, according to the DOL. Each letter urged the unions to “take steps to address widespread misconduct” within their subordinate bodies.
Both letters mentioned that union officers have a legal fiduciary responsibility to their members under U.S. labor law.
The USW and AFGE did not respond to requests for comment.
The USW and AFGE represent 575,192 and 323,285 members nationwide respectively and together, the unions’ total assets are worth roughly $1.4 billion, according to DOL filings. There are at least ten unions with more members than USW and AFGE.
Local chapters of the USW have a history of embezzlement and other financial crimes, DOL criminal enforcement action reports between 2001 and 2020 have shown.
In September, Travis Cofer, former secretary-treasurer of USW Local 9-990 in Maryville, Tennessee was sentenced after pleading guilty to embezzlement of union assets, according to the DOL. Cofer’s sentencing came days after Brian Arnold, former USW Local 104M financial secretary in Elmira, New York was sentenced for the same crime.
“Between April 2016 and August 2018, Arnold embezzled $33,224.15 in union funds,” the Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a press release. “The defendant made unauthorized purchases with the union’s debit card; made unauthorized ATM withdrawals from the union’s checking account; and wrote unauthorized checks to himself from the union’s checking account.”
Joshua Greer, former USW Local 9-212 financial secretary in Jackson, Tennessee pleaded guilty in March to intentionally making false statements in a financial report filed with DOL.
USW subordinate chapters in states from California and Michigan to Indiana, Arkansas and Massachusetts faced financial crime charges in 2019 as well, according to DOL enforcement action reports.
Former president of USW Local 4 in Yale, Michigan Earl Roberts was charged with embezzling $53,697 of union funds in August 2019, according to the DOL.
“[Roberts] did unlawfully, willfully and with fraudulent intent embezzle, steal and abstract and convert to his own use and the use of another, money, funds, securities, property and other assets of said labor organization,” prosecutors alleged in court filings.
Criminal enforcement action reports over the last two decades highlight similar crimes and convictions among USW subordinates.
American Federation of Government Employees
AFGE subordinates similarly have been implicated in several recent embezzlement cases, according to DOL reports. Like USW cases, the AFGE officials implicated in crimes aren’t concentrated in any particular region.
Rocky Gannon, former president of AFGE Local 2302 in Fort Knox, Kentucky was sentenced on Oct. 1 and ordered to pay $116,353 after pleading guilty to multiple counts of wire fraud and forged securities, according to the DOL. The former president of AFGE Local 3048 in Lompoc, California Roger Harris, pleaded guilty to wire fraud in August.
In June, Tony J. Liesenfeld, former president and secretary-treasurer of AFGE Local 148 in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania was sentenced for embezzling more than $77,000 from the union, according to the DOJ.
“Liesenfeld allegedly used a union credit card to make unauthorized purchases and cash withdrawals, and forged checks from a union account to the same ends,” the DOJ press release said.
Further, local AFGE officials in Wisconsin, Washington D.C., Massachusetts, Maryland, Oklahoma, South Carolina were convicted of embezzlement crimes in 2019, according to the DOL. Hundreds of further AFGE convictions are outlined in DOL reports from the past two decades.