Philly AFSCME President Fired for Getting Caught

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Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP, File

One doesn’t typically rise to the top of the heap in the union game through academic achievement, sterling character, or commitment to ethical conduct. Thus, we shouldn’t be terribly surprised at how many of those handed the key to a strongbox containing billions in someone else’s dues money come down with a case of sticky fingers.

The surprise, in fact, comes when they’re held accountable for their schemes.

Case in point: Ernest Garrett, until fairly recently, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 33 in Philadelphia.

AFSCME 33 is the biggest city employee union in Philly, representing mostly blue-collar workers in the sanitation, prisons, and streets departments.

These members already had every right to be peeved by Garrett’s $270,000-plus salary during a time when Americans are watching more and more of their budgets eaten up by the cost of groceries, gas, healthcare and household necessities.

AFSCME’s national office in Washington, D.C., ordered Garrett’s removal following a hearing about allegations from fellow union officers over his penchant for altering staff salaries, hiring more than a dozen friends as employees, contracting with his sister-in-law for catering services and purchasing union-branded hoodies and other apparel from a union ally’s nephew totaling half a million dollars.

Still, graft is common among union bosses. So what made the AFSCME mogul’s colleagues turn on him?

Perhaps Garrett’s bad habits finally hit their pocketbooks, too.

During the union’s investigation, Garrett testified he slashed the salaries of district council employees between $10,000 and $50,000 because “I wanted to eliminate wasteful spending.”

Got it. Hiring friends at bloated salaries and contracting with family members is business as usual, but paying union staff is wasteful spending.

Actually, both are probably wasteful, but only one requires flaunting your theft in the faces of those whose pockets you’re picking to benefit your pals.

Garrett’s conclusion that “(Y)ou don’t have a secretary in the city that makes $80,000, let alone one that’s at District 33” might well have been true. The point is how much chutzpah it takes to say so out loud to folks who know how much you’re taking home.

But again, even the competing acts of corruption at AFSCME 33 aren’t the takeaway from this episode. The breaking news is that the national office saw fit to remove him from office for what sounds like a garden-variety case of grabby-itis by the standards of what’s taking place in big, blue cities all across the country.

What’s different here?

It’s Philly, where there’s always a lot of “walking around” money to get people to vote the way the union wants.

It’s in Pennsylvania, which is poised to be a swing state in the 2024 election.

And maybe the national headquarters doesn’t want to take any chances on a big city union population that’s lost faith in its leadership right before it tells them to go collecting ballots on its behalf.

Like any crime family, robbing outsiders is encouraged. But stealing from other wiseguys is not a good plan.

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