Patterson: Mayor Berke and the unions

Patterson: Mayor Berke and the unions

May 28th, 2014 by Matt Patterson in Opinion Columns

Big Labor has supported Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke throughout his political career. Now, he's paying his union benefactors back - with your money.

On Feb. 12, while the world breathlessly watched the voting begin over UAW representation at Volkswagen, Mayor Berke quietly signed a "memorandum of understanding" with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local 205.

Building upon an existing framework established by former Mayor Ron Littlefield, the Berke/SEIU agreement promises, among other things, to allow the union to hold meetings on city property (Article 7). In addition, Article 8.1 promises that the city will make no "changes to ... personnel policies without first providing notice to the union." (The agreement can be read in its entirety at

But the most egregious supplication to the union comes in Article 11, which provides 600 hours of "release time," allowing union officials to do union work -- including attending union conventions and taking union training classes -- while being paid by Chattanooga taxpayers.

This practice, also known as official time, is a long-standing and unseemly means by which politicians enrich their private political supporters (unions) at your expense. It also may violate the Tennessee State Constitution, which explicitly forbids such gifts in Article II, Sec. 31: "The credit of this state shall not be hereafter loaned or given to or in aid of any person, association, company, corporation or municipality."

According to labor analyst Trey Kovacs, "47 out of 50 state constitutions" contain similar clauses, designed to prohibit "state and local governments' ability to spend tax dollars in aid of private interests." Nevertheless, politicians like Berke continue to shower their union buddies with public favors.

So just what is this organization that is receiving such largess from the mayor? The SEIU is one of the largest most aggressively left-wing unions in the country, with over 1.5 million members nationally across multiple fields, including health care, food service, janitorial and security staffs, in both the public and private sectors.

How aggressive? In 2009, SEIU President Andy Stern bragged that "We spent a fortune to elect Barack Obama -- $60.7 million to be exact -- and we're proud of it."

And Mayor Berke just handed them the keys to the city.

It's not hard to figure why. When he successfully ran for the state Senate in Tennessee's 10th District back in 2008, Berke's top campaign contributors included the Tennessee Carpenters Regional Council, Ironworkers Local 704, Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 572, Tennessee Labor Council AFL-CIO, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

And in the Chattanooga mayoral race, Berke received at least $5,000 from -- you guessed it -- the SEIU.

So while Big Labor was turned away at Volkswagen, one of the most radical unions in the country staged a quiet coup at City Hall with the help of a compliant politician who owes his career to union checkbooks. In fact, city employees who have never asked for or voted on SEIU representation may be interested to know that Article 1 of the Mayor's agreement begins, "... the City of Chattanooga recognizes ... that the union is the authorized representative of all general government employees."

The Mayor's office did not return calls inquiring about the legality and integrity of this deal.

No wonder.

Matt Patterson is executive director, Center for Worker Freedom, at Americans for Tax Reform.