By Lance Izumi and Rebecca Friedrichs
Ever wonder why government agencies like the DMV make simple chores like registering a vehicle a lot more frustrating, and expensive, than they need to be, or why the lines are so long?
Mariam Noujaim, longtime hard-working California DMV employee and Egyptian immigrant was frustrated about those things too, but when she fought to improve things, she ran headlong into unresponsive supervisors and union bosses.
“I had a huge idea about America,” Mariam told us. “In Egypt I could never dream of standing up, but in America I could say what I think.” She did just that. In 2006/07, she witnessed extreme inefficiencies with DMV’s then brand new “Document Imaging and Storage Replacement” (DISR) system. Though celebrated in news reports, employees experienced massive backlogs requiring increased labor and overtime costs wasting taxpayer dollars and negatively impacting customer service. The fixes were obvious to Mariam, so she reported issues through the chain of command, but after nearly two years of communications and meetings, nothing changed, so Mariam wrote to a director who took immediate action and demoted a supervisor.
Mariam did the right thing but she paid a heavy price. Two supervisors launched what she calls a “harassment campaign” against her complete with a warning letter in her personnel file full of false accusations and personal attacks. They accused her of violating the department’s security policy when gathering her evidence, but she’d followed her manager’s instructions.
Mariam went to her union, SEIU, for help. She told us, “I was shocked. My union rep told me they couldn’t help me and I’d better hire a lawyer to keep my job!” Though she believes in unions, she’d never been permitted to vote for SEIU. “It was imposed on me,” she told us. “It’s a monopoly; it’s oppressive, and our dues are used for their political agenda and to brainwash members.”
Mariam also discovered her union officials were “the laziest people.” She told us, “The union reps get big salaries; they waste time on taxpayer money. They create trouble, never promote productivity, incite grievances, and make mountains out of molehills to justify their existence.”
She shares in her book DMV…Asleep at the Wheel: An Immigrant’s View of Scandalous Government Waste: “We really feel there is a crucial role for the Union…in holding the Government accountable…It is our Members that see the waste every day…We can’t sit idly by while our paychecks are cut, our jobs are cut, and money is going down the drain in waste and fraud.”
Mariam and her colleagues wanted their union to “work for the people, not for union pockets and politics,” so they organized. They recommended an emergency fund for members suffering from terminal illnesses or disasters. They suggested purchasing computers and training so workers could increase skills and seek promotions. Mariam told us, “We could do a lot with the over $60 million they collected from us.”
But union bosses refused, so Mariam asked to see the books. Union officials gave her one sheet revealing only general categories, and they made their disapproval of her known as she inspected the numbers. The sheet contained none of the detailed expenditures she desired to inspect, but Mariam saw travel expenses totaling several million and massive donations to outside organizations among other outrageous disbursements. So she asked for details, Mariam told us, “The moment we started to ask questions they didn’t want to answer, they kicked us out of the building; our building. They forgot they work for the members and it’s because of our dues they enjoy all the privileges they get.”
Mariam hired a CPA, but the unions wouldn’t allow her access to the books because she wasn’t a member, so Mariam hired an attorney to sue for access.
Mariam was finally given six hours to review the books, but the documents were arranged in tall stacks on tables with more in large boxes. It was impossible to view them all, and she was not permitted to make photocopies to secure evidence. After lots of legal fees and heroic efforts, Mariam was never able to fully view the books.
Mariam’s story is not unique. Millions of government employees have been misrepresented for decades by unions who’ve collected billions annually – tax free – while ruling with an iron fist.
Thankfully, a June 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Janus) freed all government employees from forced unionism – they’re now free to pay unions nothing.
Most folks believe unions control their pay and pensions and have their backs. As Mariam learned, those are falsehoods. Government unions have become what they used to fight, which is why workers should contemplate increasing their pay by opting out and considering alternatives.
So next time you’re frustrated with the DMV, don’t blame Mariam who says, “We’re working for the best of America because this is taxpayers’ money.” Instead, empower employees to unite independent of monopoly government unions who work against taxpayers, deny employees’ transparency, line their own pockets, and ignore waste while making mountains out of molehills.