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Lawsuit: ACA navigators used as union recruiters

By   /   October 9, 2014  /   News  /   No Comments

Getty Images/Mark Wilson

THEY’RE BACK: The group’s founder faces new accusations that sound like the old ones.

By Jon Cassidy | Watchdog.org

HOUSTON – A lawsuit filed by an organizer for Battleground Texas accuses a labor group established by ACORN founder Wade Rathke of instructing an Obamacare navigator to spend time recruiting union members.

The complaint echoes decades-old criticisms of Rathke and ACORN: They use federal money meant for services to the poor in pursuit of their own labor organizing activities.

Cedric Anthony, who went to work for the Democratic Party’s Texas recruitment operation, filed a wage-and-hour lawsuit in June against two groups he says jointly employed him as a “federal navigator assisting people with the Affordable Care Act” – Southern United Neighborhoods and Local 100 United Labor Unions.

Both groups were founded by former ACORN organizers, the latter by its founder, Rathke. In his federal suit, Anthony alleges that while he worked as a federal navigator from Dec. 12, 2013, to April 1, 2014, in the Houston area, his “responsibilities included traveling to school campuses to register cafeteria workers to the labor union and attending community events to register individuals for the Affordable Care Act.”

The watchdog group Cause of Action discovered the lawsuit recently, and sent a letter to the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calling for an audit to determine whether the two groups misused federal funds for their own benefit. The group notes SUN has received $1.4 million from HHS to employ Obamacare navigators, and its sub-grantee United Labor Unions spent $189,000 in 2013 as part of its contract to provide navigators to enroll people in Obamacare.

Anthony says he was hired by SUN, which holds the navigator contract, and later directed to enroll union members for ULU. Although he worked for both groups, he said his instructions came from the same person. His complaint depicts blurred lines between the two groups, which “shared the same offices in Houston, Dallas, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Little Rock.”

The lone attorney for both defendants denies SUN and ULU acted jointly; he says the labor group was Anthony’s sole employer. He also denies the two “shared the same offices,” although he admits they each “have offices located in the same building in each of the five cities.”

Fox News reports that four other SUN employees have joined the lawsuit.

Rathke’s groups have a long history of using workers hired with federal funds for political purposes. ACORN’s implosion amid scandal in 2009 is widely known, but the very first complaint against the group is much the same as Anthony’s. In 1977, ACORN had a $470,000 federal contract to assist the poor through the Volunteer in Service to America program, which it lost after a congressional investigation found VISTA workers were being used as union recruiters.

A congressional report on those events bears an uncanny resemblance to the present case. If you change a few names – ACORN to SUN, ULO to ULU, and VISTA to ACA – the old story sounds rather familiar:

“The ULO (United Labor Organizations), which was described as a ‘separate entity’ that ACORN ‘is helping to get started,’ shares space in the same building as ACORN in New Orleans. The sign in front of the building says ‘ACORN’  on one side and 11ULO11 on the other. The HWOC (Household Workers Organizing Committee), also located in the same building, was said to be a ULO ‘subsidiary organization.’ It was stated that ACORN rents the building and that both ULO and HWOC rent space from ACORN, but the Investigative Staff was unable to verify this arrangement without access to ACORN’s accounting records.

“Five VISTAs were actively working with the HWOC, reporting directly to the chief organizer, until late this past spring when the ACTION Office of Compliance directed that the assignments be terminated. There is as yet, however, very much of an indirect involvement of VISTAs and the use of grant money in the labor organizing activity of ACORN. First, ACORN has only limited staff resources …. Without the VISTAs to take over neighborhood organizing chores, it is doubtful whether the manpower would be available to mount a credible union organizing effort. Thus, the availability of VISTAs is facilitating (if not making practicable) the ACORN move into labor organizing. Second, there are no safeguards, of which the Investigative Staff is aware, to prevent membership dues solicited by VISTAs from being used for labor organizing.”

Jon Cassidy can be reached at [email protected] or @jpcassidy000.

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Jon Cassidy is the Houston-based reporter for Watchdog.org. He used to report for The Orange County Register and The Hill, and his work has been published by Fox News, Reason, The American Spectator, The Federalist, Human Events, and other publications. You can reach Jon at [email protected]