An obscure federal agency in charge of preventing strikes has instead spent money promoting union membership and propping up public sector unions.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service gave a grant of $101,000 in federal funds to Wisconsin construction unions who complained that union workers were at a disadvantage in hiring because managers had to pay them more than others.

“Skilled trade workers struggle with employment in this economy due to non-unionized construction workers gaining popularity with their lower wage requirements,” they wrote in a successful application for a grant to "promote organized labor."

FMCS gave other money to a multitude of unions to help recruit more workers and combat declining membership. The supposedly neutral agency sent $55,000 to Michigan Technological University to ensure that most "campus leaders" are union members. It even sent $98,000 to the Peoria, Ill., construction industry because of a "lack of interest" in people becoming construction workers.

It gave $103,000 to the Service Employees International Union in Chicago to boost its membership by encouraging more people to become health care workers, $94,000 to conduct green energy training so the Illinois sheetmetal workers' union could get more work for its members, and $83,000 for a mechanics union to teach tech skills.

The grants were part of a program that allowed anyone to request cash grants as long as their mission in any way involves labor issues — and often times, they were connected to that topic in only the most tortured way.

The payments often appeared to be futile gestures intended to combat far greater tides.

FMCS endeavored to stop the movement of industrial work to China -- and thereby help stop the decline of union labor in America -- by granting $47,000 to International Specialty Products, "a privately owned company that produces more than 500 specialty chemicals" in Calvert City, Ky., because its told FMCS its business was being lost to China.

And it gave $63,000 to a Los Angeles hospital because it went bankrupt.

When organic factors such as “pressure from non-union competition” brought Illinois construction unions down from their peak, an FMCS grant enabled them to develop “an industry-wide plan to address the impending labor shortage in union construction.”

In many cases the federal agency was using taxpayer money to fund public employees unions, which in turn lobby for more taxpayer funding.

FMCS granted $105,000 for an Albany public employees union to make videos, $92,000 "to improve the workplace for city employees" in Chicago, and $77,000 for New York City public employees to “balance work and family,” since it is a "growing sector" with a "high proportion" of single parents who are often absent or late.

The grants seemed to reward poor performance. FMCS gave $53,000 for Nebraska police unions because their health care was too expensive, and $35,000 to a Massachusetts correctional officers' union to address its high number of internal investigations.

It provided $100,000 to address Chicago construction workers' "reluctance to assume leadership positions."

And it gave $67,000 to a Cincinnati hospital to help "employees who may be at risk of discipline for performance related issues."

The agency appeared to pick and choose for-profit companies to receive cash grants from the federal government. Those included $65,000 to help a company providing home health workers in the Bronx be more efficient, and $51,000 for a child care company in Chicago to help it pay government licensing fees.

FMCS appears to have done little follow-up to ensure the money was well spent, and in many cases the grantees did not appear to have met their stated goals.

It provided $57,000 to Wisconsin-based Amerequip Corp. to "strengthen our culture of continuous improvement to drive us to world class excellence!" It subsidized the private corporation’s operations apparently because the company was employee-owned. That same year, the employees sold it to a private management group.

In 2005, FMCS gave $65,000 to Federal Mogul Corp. of Wisconsin. Since then, the company has laid off of massive swaths of its employees and moved much of its production abroad.

FMCS officials halted the grants program in 2011 as part of the Congress-imposed “sequester,” sparing its paid staff from the forced cuts. Grants amounted to $4.4 million between 2005 and 2011.

Federal Workers Max Out at Taxpayer Expense

A five-part series on the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service
Tuesday: Bureaucrats at tiny agency buy legions of luxuries with purchase cards
Wednesday: Reckless FMCS spending goes straight to the top
Thursday: FMCS heads forced whistleblower to retract fraud complaint
Friday: Federal officials cede authority to outsiders who write own contracts
Monday: FMCS fired wounded warrior whistleblower after ICU stay
Data: FMCS salaries and bonuses
View the whole series

But the program is emblematic of an agency that seems to be grasping at straws to find exactly what that mission is.

For example, if the grants were any indication, one might think FMCS was chartered to increase the number of minorities who work for the government and construction companies -- a stated purpose of many successful grant applications -- or undertake obscure local government projects such as moving an Ohio region from town-based to regional fire departments.

FMCS spokesman John Arnold said the grants technically went to partnerships between management and labor, and that in the 1978 Labor-Management Cooperation Act, Congress directed FMCS to “encourage and support joint labor-management committees … established for the purpose of improving labor-management relationships, job security and organizational effectiveness, enhancing economic development or involving workers in decisions affecting their jobs."

Founded to provide taxpayer-funded mediators to help private-sector business managers and unions resolve contract issues, FMCS appears to have more funds than it knows what to do with, and the grants program is emblematic of an agency that that seems to grasp at straws to find exactly what that mission is.

It also spends on programs for schoolchildren to help them resolve playground differences, including making a CD-ROM called “Cool School.”