More than $1 million in union dues went to the National Football League during the last full year on record — and much of that money went to ticket purchases, National Review and the Center for Union Facts concluded after examining the Department of Labor filings.
Philadelphia’s International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 98 had some of the most egregious expenditures. In 2014 alone, it spent $264,414 on Eagles tickets — supposedly “to promote job creation.”
By deadline, a union spokesperson had failed to respond to National Review’s request for more information.
We weren’t the only ones who were curious, either. A source in the union tells National Review that some members have asked about who, exactly, got to use these Philadelphia Eagles tickets — but the union’s bosses refused to answer their questions.
(Then again, IBEW Local 98 has been caught spending more than $11,000 at Coach for “holiday gifts.” It’s also spent tens of thousands of dollars from its political action fund at a restaurant owned and operated by Local 98’s leaders.)
Richard Berman, executive director of the Center for Union Facts, says that union members don’t have much influence over how their dues money is spent. “The fact that union bosses spend so much on professional sports is suspicious in itself,” he says, adding:
But that they do it on their members’ dime is downright dishonest. To suggest that football tickets are being used to promote “job creation,” for example, is utter nonsense. . . . [Members] shouldn’t be footing the bill for luxury purchases, entertainment costs, and other splashy expenses that union bigwigs should pay for out of their own pocket. If union bosses want to spend their members’ dues on their own entertainment, they should call mandatory dues what they are: A slush fund paid for by the rank-and-file.
Philadelphia’s Local 98 is far from the only union dropping big money on pro football.
In 2014, Plumbers AFL-CIO Local 469 spent almost $30,000 on the Arizona Cardinals. Nearly $15,000 went to “football tickets for promotion,” an expense listed under representational activities. The same union also spent $39,760 on the Arizona Diamondbacks. National Review phoned Local 469 several times before deadline, but no one answered the phone or returned our message.
Sometimes, unions spending dues money on professional football gave their members the chance to use the purchased tickets. For instance, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 spent nearly $17,000 on Denver Broncos tickets, selling them back to members at cost. Kevin Schneider, the union’s secretary treasurer, says the tickets aren’t a perk for officers or staff but a benefit for members, adding that “it is not a misuse of union funds.”
“Unions now are not the unions of old,” Schneider says. “We exist for the improvement of workers’ lives, and if our ability to give our members the opportunity to attend a Broncos game at their own cost is one way we can help our members enjoy their lives, then that’s what we do.”
According to its financial disclosures, the Letter Carrier’s Branch 294 runs a similar program, spending $6,934 in 2014 on tickets to the New York Jets that were sold to members at cost or at a discount.
Other unions spent heavily on NFL-related sponsorships and advertising.
Plumbers AFL-CIO National Headquarters stood out for especially high expenditures, dropping $159,134 on an advertising campaign on the Chicago Bears’ network, as well as $137,888 on a series of sponsorships of the Indianapolis Colts.
From the limited information offered in the financial disclosures, it’s hard to tell if money spent on advertising or sponsorships is legitimate or abusive, says Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center. “Union funds were meant to be spent in the best interest of the union members. Any time large amounts of money are being spent on entertainment or questionable expenses of any kind, that is possibly an abuse of union funding.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and the Tony Blankley Fellow at the Steamboat Institute.