Money talks

Money talks

Once a year, Parade magazine publishes an interesting report on what people earn for various kinds of work - $12,000 for a dog groomer in Wyoming, $60,000 for a plumber in Memphis, $25 million for some movie star I've never heard of.

The Labor Department provides a similar peek at paychecks of union officials. Each year, unions must file LM-2 financial reports disclosing key details of their financial status, revenue and major expenditures, including pay of executives and employees.

The LM-2s for 2006 have just been filed, and once again the Inter-national Longshoremen's Association is attracting attention for top officials' pay. A recent report said the ILA had four of the nation's 20 highest-paid union officers. ILA President John Bowers received $577,673 in salaries last year and about two dozen ILA officials earn more than AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

Are the pay levels excessive? That's for union members to decide; I offer no opinion. Besides, standards for pay levels are subjective for almost any job. Is Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig really worth $14.5 million a year? Doubtful, but maybe, if you consider that the Major Leagues' 2006 revenue hit a record $6 billion.

One can't help but compare ILA officials' compensation with that of the West Coast's International Long-shore and Warehouse Union, which lists 42,000 members, compared with the ILA's 43,500. The ILWU paid its last president, James Spinosa, $114,413 in salary and $35,770 in allowances and benefits in 2006, for total compensation of $150,183.

Besides the officials' salaries, the ILA's LM-2 shows that the international union's assets shrank from $51.1 million to $33.8 million in the last two years, and that spending exceeded receipts by $8.5 million last year. The numbers offer a ready-made campaign issue to the Longshore Workers Coalition, an intraunion group that criticizes union leadership as complacent and out of touch.

LWC leaders blame the slippage in union finances largely on salaries and other spending (that $6 billion in big-league baseball revenue included $21,516 the ILA spent on Mets tickets). Other factors include legal fees from a civil racketeering lawsuit that seeks to put the union under government administration, and the rising number of newer ILA workers who are at lower wage tiers and therefore pay less in dues.

Criticism of the ILA's salaries and finances generates interesting discussion, but that's about all for now. ILA officials are chosen not by direct election but by delegates, and the LWC has had little success in local elections.

The LWC will make some noise with resolutions at the union's quadrennial convention in July, but the dissident faction still lacks the muscle to push through basic changes in the union's status quo.

That situation won't change soon, unless the ILA keeps providing the insurgents with fresh ammunition.