Too Loose for Comfort

The Department of Labor's decision to loosen reporting requirements on unions is difficult to justify

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor loosened union financial disclosure rules, making it easier for union officials to hide questionable practices. The DOL during the George W. Bush administration had improved reports called for under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, but is now backtracking from these standards.

In particular, the department exempted lower-level union officers, such as shop stewards, from reporting requirements entirely. The department also removed reporting requirements on "union leave," a term that refers to the time that union officials spend on union business while still being paid by the company. This change makes it easier for union operatives to abuse union leave arrangements. Without some sort of accounting for this leave, union officials will be more likely to use it inappropriately for personal business or even recreation.

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The new rules also no longer require the reporting of benefits that union officials might receive from competing businesses within their industry. This increases the possibility that union officers might be “bought out” of pursuing representation drives at rival companies and forgoing the chance to organize new workers. Allowing deals of this sort to occur is something that should be anathema to anyone who seriously believes in the value of unions.

Corruption remains a very real problem in unions both in Michigan and across the country. Last summer, the secretary of Plumbers Local 333 in Lansing was found to have embezzled more than $400,000 from the union. And little more than a month, ago an officer at AFSCME Local 1820 in Pontiac was sentenced after pleading guilty to embezzling more than $40,000. This is far from a complete list of white-collar union crime in Michigan.

Strong union reporting standards cost taxpayers relatively little, while providing invaluable information to workers who rely on unions for representation in the workplace. Mackinac Center policy analysts have recommended that the state pass strong disclosure rules for government employee unions. The Obama administration's decision to loosen reporting requirements on unions is difficult to justify. Congress should rewrite LMRDA so that these requirements are a permanent part of the law.