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Strengthen labor union reporting requirements to expose corruption

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I have spent my entire private sector career and my time in Congress focused on improving the lives of American workers, and the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives insists they share that goal. In the Committee on Education and Labor, on which I serve, they claim to do so by trying to strengthen the power of labor unions, which represent just over 6 percent of private sector workers in the U.S. The labor market has spoken and has decided that unions largely do not add value for workers or employers, and artificially protecting unions with legal artifices comes at the expense of workers’ freedom.

But the indictment of Philadelphia union boss Johnny “Doc” Dougherty last month exposes a serious flaw in our labor laws that both Democrats and Republicans should seek to remedy. Among the many crimes Dougherty was charged with is misusing workers’ union dues, including using union funds to bribe a city councilman with $143,000 in cash and professional football tickets, and using union credit cards to pay personal restaurant tabs and to pay the contractors working on his private home. Because Pennsylvania is not a right-to-work state, workers in union shops are required to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment—meaning they have no choice but to give union bosses like Doc Dougherty a piece of their paycheck, under the unfortunate assumption that the money is spent in a manner that benefits workers.

{mosads}The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) is a law intended to ensure that union officials “adhere to the highest standards of responsibility and ethical conduct in administering the affairs of their organizations.” The law creates accountability by requiring unions to file financial disclosure reports with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), allowing workers to see how their union dues are spent, but the current application of the law is clearly insufficient to prevent fraud and abuse by union leaders. Otherwise we would not have Doc Dougherty.

 For that reason, the Department of Labor (DOL) under President George W. Bush proposed rules to increase transparency by requiring more detailed reporting. The rules would have required unions to disclose the name of any party buying or selling union assets of $5,000 or more, required more union officials to declare whether they receive any income or economic benefit from an entity that does business with the union or employs union members, and required union trusts—organizations such as strike funds and apprenticeship programs set up to benefit workers—to file their own separate financial disclosures.

Regrettably, the Obama administration, at the request of labor union bosses, retracted all of these proposed rules, limiting the public detail available to workers regarding how their own union dues are spent. The Trump administration DOL plans to promulgate rules to increase union financial transparency, but workers’ ability to see how their own hard-earned dollars are spent shouldn’t be dependent on which party occupies the White House.

 That is why I am reintroducing the Union Transparency and Accountability Act, a bill which would codify the Bush administration’s proposed reporting requirements as part of the LMRDA. As long as workers are forced to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment and forced to accept workplace representation from that union, they should be able to see in detail how the union’s leadership spends their hard-earned dollars.

These reporting requirements are necessary because union corruption at the expense of workers is all too common. In the same week Dougherty was indicted, a former union leader in New York was sentenced to three years in prison for embezzling $1.3 million from a union and its benefit plan. In December, a Michigan union official was sent to prison for accepting illegal payments, the seventh person sentenced in a widespread conspiracy to violate federal labor laws.

As the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board recently wrote of the Dougherty indictment, “The losers are the union rank-and-file who prosecutors say were fleeced by their leaders for political and personal gain.” Labor unions whose wealth is gained through coercion and the labor bosses who run them lack sufficient accountability to the people they purport to represent.

Democrats insist they want to give workers a louder voice in the economy, and that labor unions are a vehicle to do so. Strengthening the LMRDA through more detailed reporting requirements would make unions more effective and accountable, and better empower the American worker—something every member of Congress regardless of party desires to accomplish.

Rooney represents the 19th District of Florida. He is a member of the Education and Labor Committee.

Tags Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act Labor relations Right-to-work law Union

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