Department of Labor puts clouds in front of sunlight. Union Bosses Rejoice. Union Members Left in the Dark.
Power often tempts people to misuse their authority. Financial transparency laws keep those temptations in check. The government requires businesses, pension funds, and non-profits to file financial transparency forms to keep them honest.
These laws also cover unions. Congress passed the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) in 1959 after investigations exposed massive corruption within the Teamsters and Longshoremen unions. Congress believed that allowing union members to see how their union spent their money would discourage self-dealing.
Under President Bush, the Labor Department significantly strengthened union transparency. Unions often negotiate contracts allowing union representatives to do union work while on company time. This leave can be used to reward union supporters with no-show jobs. Unions might trade off benefits for workers in exchange for more paid leave. So Elaine Chao, the former secretary of labor, required unions to disclose how much leave they received.
Chao also extended conflict-of-interest reporting to union stewards and required union officers to disclose payments they receive from union trusts. If a workers training fund is making large payments to union officers, Chao reasoned, the workers might want to know about it.
The Obama administration disagrees. The Department of Labor just issued regulations rolling back these transparency measures. Now union officers do not have to report how much union leave they receive, or how much money they get from a trust. Union stewards will not have to disclose potential conflicts of interest at all.