December 24, 2007 | Commentary on Labor
The federal government's union watchdog agency will have to get by on less next year. The mammoth omnibus spending bill passed last week hacks nearly $3 million from the Office of Labor Management Standards -- a small gift for Big Labor just in time for Christmas.
The budget cut was a setback for the office, which has recouped more than $100 million for American workers since 2001 as a result of increased enforcement. The Bush Administration had sought to increase the agency's budget to $56.88 million. Now, however, it will fall to $44.93 million for this fiscal year.
Though the cut is unwelcome, the office managed to dodge an even more dramatic change. Democrats dropped their plan to restrict funding for the collection of conflict-of-interest reports. The newly revised LM-30 form had angered union bosses because it requires union officers or employees to "disclose possible conflicts between personal interests and the officer's or employee's duty to the union and its members."
Although the conflict-of-interest requirement dates back to the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, enacted in 1959, the agency's revised version makes it harder for union officials to avoid disclosing perks such as mortgage deals or car service agreements they receive as a result of their union employment. Only about 40 reports were filed annually in the past; the new rule takes effect on Jan. 1, 2008.
The agency views this greater transparency as a victory for hard-working union members who pay dues but currently have little information about where or how their money is spent. The increased transparency, however, has prompted a backlash among union bigwigs.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney complained last week about the "rank new directive from the Bush Labor Department that adds yet another debilitating burden to unions by requiring more than 100,000 workplace volunteers to report their run-of-the-mill consumer transactions to the federal government."
Sweeney's misleading statement gives the impression that unpaid volunteers would have to comply with the conflict-of-interest requirement. In fact, the Office of Labor Management Standards requires only union officials on payroll to file the LM-30 form, and in the case of workers who double as union officers, they don't need to file a report unless they work more than 250 hours (approximately six weeks) on union business.
The attacks on the office are nothing new for Big Labor. They've been badmouthing the office ever since the Bush Administration revived the enforcement operations that had been allowed to languish during the Clinton era. With Democrats now in control of Congress, unions have made a push to peel back some of the gains in transparency for dues-paying union members.
Lately, though, the attacks have extended beyond the office itself. The liberal Center for American Progress released a 28-page report this month that singles out the agency's director, Don Todd, in a highly personal attack on his character. The report mentions Todd by name on 29 occasions and accuses him of being a political hack determined to sabotage unions.
"The underlying purpose," the report concluded, "is to undermine the reputation of the labor union movement through a classic political misinformation campaign -- all under the supervision of a lifelong partisan political operative whose career has been dedicated to the destruction of his political opponents."
Todd has not commented publicly about the report, but a Department of Labor spokesman dismissed it, noting that the office has brought greater transparency to rank-and-file workers within the confines of the law. As a result of the increased enforcement, the office has helped bring corrupt union officers to justice.
In the past month alone, for example, a former financial secretary for the United Mine Workers in Wheeling, W.Va., was sentenced to a year in prison for embezzling more than $70,000 in union funds, an office secretary for the Plasterers in Denver pleaded guilty to embezzling $28,480 in union money, and the former president of National Treasury Employees Union in Detroit pleaded guilty to one count of bank robbery.
News stories about union corruption are not what Big Labor wants the public -- or its rank-and-file -- to see. It's no wonder John Sweeney and his union cohorts are doing what they can to shut down the one agency in the federal government that looks out for union workers.
Robert B. Bluey is director of the Center for Media and Public Policy
First appeared in Townhall.com