Disclosure Laws for Business

By contrast, since the 1930s corporations have been obligated to file detailed reports with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), using generally accepted accounting procedures, with the specific purpose of helping investors assess the health of publicly traded companies.

The SEC requires annual and quarterly disclosure of public companies' financial dealings.  This disclosure is made through detailed reports prepared by independent third-party auditors, using generally accepted auditing standards, and generally accepted accounting principles.

The same should be true for labor unions.  Union members provide billions of dollars in dues to their unions each year.  These `investors' certainly have a right to a detailed and meaningful annual disclosure of the manner in which their union is spending their dues to represent them.  Just as stockholders and not management are the owners of a public company, dues paying members and not union officials are the `owners' of the union.

Efforts have been made by Congress and the Department of Labor to correct the deficiencies in federal reporting requirements for unions.  Numerous bills have been introduced since 1994 to amend the Landrum-Griffin Act, all of which have been either killed in Congress or vetoed by former President Clinton.  One of the most comprehensive attempts to amend Landrum-Griffin was HR 928, the Union Members Right to Know Act of 1997, introduced during the 105th Congress.  This bill would have added the following information to the LM-2:

  • an itemization of the total amount spent by the labor organization, broken down into categories relevant to Beck rights, such as contract negotiation and administration, organizing activities, strike activities, lobbying, political activities such as get-out-the-vote drives or issue advocacy, and PAC contributions.  This information would be presented in both the aggregate and as a percentage of total spending by the union;

  • the names and activities of any union lobbyists;

  • a list of political candidates and organizations, charities, and community groups receiving union contributions or other assistance, along with dollar values of that assistance.[52]

Had it been passed, HR 928 would have required the meaningful union disclosure necessary for workers and government to oversee the manner in which unions spend their members' money.  Given the partisan balance of power in the U.S. Senate, passage of this or any similar legislation is unlikely for the foreseeable future.

Over the past 10 years, the Department of Labor has also made on-again-off-again efforts to improve the form of financial disclosure mandated by Landrum-Griffin.  President George H. W. Bush initiated a Department of Labor rule-making project that would have required labor organizations to report financial information on a much more useful basis.[53]  President Clinton's Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, killed this project in 1993, but it has been revived in 2001 with the election of George W. Bush.  Future rule-making in this area remains difficult to predict.

At the state level, Michigan possesses no significant requirements for labor union financial disclosure.  Thus, local public labor union affiliates are not required to report under the authority of Landrum-Griffin or any state law.

[52] HR 928 105th Congress, Union Members Right to Know Act of 1997.

[53] Testimony of Marshall Breger before theHouse Committee on Education and the Workforce, July 7, 1997, available from Federal Documents Clearing House