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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm very supportive of increased union transparency, periodic government audits, etc. But you are living in a bizarre fantasy if you think OLMS under this administration is all about helping union members. I've always liked AUD because you seemed pro-labor. But you're losing credibility with this post. OLMS, like many other federal agencies, has been captured by the Bush administration and is being used for political purposes instead of the public good.

For example, look at the LM-2 changes. The changes were clearly designed to get Union Facts the information it needs to attack unions. There, luckily, we got some additional legitimate transparency for union members--but that was not the aim of the administration. With new changes to LM-2s OLMS is talking about now, union members will not at all be collateral beneficiaries, you'll see that the changes will only benefit Union Facts.

AUD should really be complaining that OLMS has abandoned its core mission and has been politicized by the Bush administration. That is the real problem with OLMS, not its funding.