This article was originally published by the Anchorage Daily News on June 17, 2021.
Alaska has always been viewed as a frontier for freedom, where individual liberty is never sacrificed on the altar of collectivism. In Alaska, every voice matters, and that’s why a government union’s attempt to silence Todd Peplow should concern us all.
Public Employees Local 71 of LiUNA (Laborers International Union of North America) has alleged that Peplow, its president, violated the union’s constitution and bylaws — simply because he stated that hundreds of union members (and himself) were backing a political candidate.
He never said that the union was formally endorsing now-mayor-elect Dave Bronson. Nor was his statement accompanied by any of the formalities that are part of an official endorsement, such as a press conference or a letter on official letterhead.
Even so, Peplow has been formally charged and impeached. This is strange, because union presidents are allowed to hold political positions; advocating for them has not been an issue in the past. In fact, President Peplow has previously published opinions in the press and was never rebuked for his actions.
In short, Local 71 LiUNA’s impeachment of its own president seems to be a farce. It’s based on an alleged violation of the bylaws. The charge is that President Peplow offered an endorsement using his official title, because when he was asked his background when endorsing Bronson, Peplow identified himself as “President of Local 71 and a retired combat veteran.” From the context, however, it was obvious he wasn’t claiming to speak on behalf of the union any more than he was speaking for the armed forces.
So what’s really going on? As a former union official for 16 years, culminating with winning two terms as president of New Haven Fire Fighters, I have witnessed how opinions that diverge from the narrative set by national union bureaucrats are suppressed with threats, attempted removal from office, and other forms of coercion.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the union bureaucracy seems to have come after President Pelow, given his reputation for fighting for his members and his firm belief that labor should transcend politics.
Peplow has been a critic of the union’s business agent’s handling of negotiations on behalf of the membership. He also balked when local unions were pressured to donate $5,000 each for the purchase of a boat for the retiring president of the Alaska AFL-CIO.
Union bigwigs don’t take kindly to this sort of independent thinking. Too often, bureaucrats operating out of Washington, D.C., who are far removed from the work their members perform, try to micromanage even local union matters. They’re well paid for it, too — many hardworking union members would be surprised to learn the General President of the Laborers International Union of North America is paid well more than $500,000 a year.
But as with any bureaucracy, the larger it becomes, the farther away it moves from its core mission. Sadly, sometimes it seems the union bureaucracy is more interested in protecting itself than protecting the rights of its members.
Unions are supposed to stand up for the underdogs, but they have allowed the bigwigs to exploit members for their own political interests — or for their own gain. These hard truths should lead members to take a good, hard look at the impeachment of President Peplow, and decide for themselves: Is it a ruse and retaliation for him having been a proper steward of their dues?
And then union members need to keep another welcome truth in mind. Thanks to the Janus decision by the United States Supreme Court, big labor can’t force public sector union membership as a condition of employment. Now members have a voice that cannot be silenced. They have a First Amendment right that is absolute.
Today, every union member has a choice: they can decide to reform from the inside — or, when the bureaucracy betrays their interests, they can opt out of the union, stop their dues deductions, and hold their leaders accountable for their actions and inactions.
Frank Ricci is a Fellow of Labor and Special Initiatives for Yankee Institute and a retired Union President and Battalion Chief for the New Haven, Connecticut Fire Department.