By the Honorable Elaine L. Chao

Congress passed the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act in 1959, after widespread publicity over union financial mismanagement led to a groundswell of support from labor union members demanding transparency and accountability in how their union dues were being spent. Among other tools, the LMRDA mandates that unions file annual financial disclosure reports with the U.S. Department of Labor and provides mechanisms to foster union democracy as well.

During my tenure as U. S. Secretary of Labor, it was brought to my attention that the regulations promulgated to enforce the LMRDA were woefully inadequate, and that much still needed to be done to deliver on the promises of transparency and accountability made to union members in 1959. Not only were the implementing regulations woefully inadequate for the 21st-century workforce, but the office charged with administering the LMRDA regulations — the Office of Labor-Management Standards — was understaffed, demoralized and lacking the resources to do its job.

New leadership was provided to update union financial disclosure reporting forms, to work with labor union officials to ensure they understood how to comply with the new regulations, and to make these annual reports accessible to union members by posting them on the Labor Department’s website. In addition, the professional OLMS staff was strengthened and provided with the resources necessary to accomplish its mission of protecting union members. As a result, for the first time, rank and file union members had unprecedented access to detailed information about how their union dues were being spent by the officials they had elected. Between 2001 and 2008, OLMS obtained more than 1,000 indictments and 929 convictions against union officers and employees for malfeasance, financial corruption and other crimes.

These hard-won reforms apply to private sector and federal employee unions. Unions representing employees of state and local governments, however, are outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Labor and under the jurisdiction of the states. In the following analysis, Nathan Mehrens — who was part of the team involved in the federal sector LMRDA reforms — provides the information necessary to understand the background and importance of union financial transparency. His analysis reveals that more than 50 years after the passage of the LMRDA, rank and file union members working for Michigan’s state and local governments still do not fully enjoy the benefits and protections of increased transparency and accountability. It is time to provide state and local union members with the same protections afforded their counterparts in private and federal sector unions.

The Honorable Elaine L. Chao served as the 24th Secretary of Labor from 2001-2009 and is the longest-serving Secretary of Labor since World War II.