Friday, September 21, 2007

New House cuts back on union democracy

A discussion piece by AUD Director Judith Schneider

Now that Democrats are in control, civil libertarians and workers' rights advocates might expect Congress to strengthen union democracy, that is, the rights of members inside unions. It seems they are doomed to disappointment. Republicans and Democrats may alternate in control; the need to defend union democracy remains. The House recently voted to reduce the budget of only one division of the U.S. Department of Labor, its Office of Labor-Management Standards [OLMS,] by $2.1 million. Most Democrats voted for the reduction, and not because they are in an economy budget-cutting mood. Actually, they voted for an increase in the overall DOL budget by almost a billion dollars to $46.7 billion. Why single out the OLMS?

The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, the federal law that protects union democracy and requires disclosure of union finances, assigned enforcement responsibilities to the U.S. Department of Labor. The DOL created the Office of Labor-Management Standards as its LMRDA enforcement division. Union democracy advocates have long argued that OLMS doesn't do enough to fulfill its responsibilities. Now, with less money, it will surely do even less, an outcome that was undoubtedly the intention of its budget-cutters.

OLMS conducts investigations of union elections and supervises reruns. It collects the financial disclosure forms unions are required to file, makes them available for rank-and-file review and audits a small sample (they say only about 4½ %.) It has investigatory authority for civil and criminal violations, refers criminal cases to the Justice Department, and obtains restitution of stolen union member dues. The OLMS is government's enforcement clout supporting the LMRDA. Currently with some 350 employees - it once had over 450 - it now looks like even this truncated operation has been targeted for reduction. A budget cut of $2.1 million- from $47.8 million to $45.7- will be imposed if the House of Representatives has its way. That may not sound like much in the grand scheme of things --- not enough to arouse misgivings. But the administration had proposed that an increase of more than $9 million was needed to enable the OLMS to do its job. It is obvious that if the OLMS budget cut goes through, its operations will have to be reduced

If the demands of economy were not at stake, how explain the OLMS cuts? The AFL-CIO establishment has always been hostile to LMRDA enforcement. Now, that hostility has been reinforced by new DOL requirements of more detailed public financial disclosures by unions. The House majority seems willing to sacrifice the interests of union democracy in order to yield to the concerns of the AFL-CIO top officialdom.

An amendment to restore the funds was rejected on a mostly party-line vote, with almost all Democrats voting against it. The Senate will have an opportunity to restore the funds in September.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A la Nixon: Jimmy Hoffa et al. go to China

When The New York Times interviewed Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. in Shanghai, it reported that, along with other American union leaders, he had come to meet with Chinese union leaders and dine with Communist Party officials. Not that they intended to collaborate with the state-controlled unions but, said Hoffa, "I think a dialogue with them is very constructive. You can't ignore a union that claims to have 100 million workers." The whole 10-day visit was a project of Andy Stern's Change to Win Coalition. The SEIU was there, and Greg Tarpinian, formerly a Hoffa PR rep and now CtoW executive director, was spokesman. It is not likely that Hoffa and C to W hoped to learn from the "dialogue" how they, too, could organize 100 million workers. The Chinese unions, as creatures of the government, enjoy a prefabricated, involuntary membership, a system that is not likely to be duplicated in the United States.

It is curious. What were they doing in China, intermingling with figures and forces so powerful in our global economy? One possible explanation is their hope that somehow some of that power will rub off on them. Or at least lend them the aura of power.

The whole thing seems like another product of the fertile, protean, and somewhat eccentric mind of Andy Stern, president of the SEIU and guiding genius of the Change to Win Coalition. He is preoccupied with creating a new powerful force in America. With a growing base among America's most downtrodden, the unskilled, the immigrants, the minorities, who constitute the growing sector of service workers, he hopes --- by not annoying the captains of industry with individual grievances --- to add them in a not quite defined plan to save the American economy. And to join with Wal-Mart to bring medical insurance --- not quite defined --- to all.

Alan Murray reported in The Wall Street Journal (5/30) that Stern is now cultivating relations with private buyout CEOs. "Mr. Stern told me in an interview," writes Murray, "that he much prefers working with the buyout kings than with their public-company counterparts. 'I've been incredibly impressed,' he said, sharing his impressions of the men, 'Compared with most of my meetings with company CEOs, these men are much more businesslike and have much more understanding of what we are trying to accomplish.'" Just what is Stern trying to accomplish?

And now, somehow to add to the putative mixture, a possible connection with the fastest growing power on earth, the Chinese, what a formidable combination of POWER!

Power for what precisely? That's an open question.