Union leaders see politics behind new disclosure regulations

Rules require detailed spending summaries


Labor leaders have sharply criticized new financial disclosure regulations that the Labor Department issued Friday, asserting that the Bush administration is intent on retaliating against unions.

"These new rules are blatantly political," said Jonathan Hiatt, the AFL-CIO's general counsel, charging that the administration wanted to punish labor for supporting many Democrats and battling the president on numerous issues. "They aim to send a retaliatory message."

Administration officials said the new rules were not designed to punish labor, but to prevent union corruption and provide union members with more information about their unions' operations and financial health.

The Labor Department said the new regulations, released after it received more than 35,000 public comments, were needed because the old rules did not require enough disclosure. In defending the rules, department officials pointed out that this was the first major effort to update the rules in 44 years.

"The current financial disclosure forms that unions file provide little of value to rank-and-file members about their union's finances and operations, and they have failed as an effective deterrent against financial misconduct," said Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

Under the new rules - which require more disclosure than the old rules - local, regional and national unions with annual income of $250,000 or more must report expenditures of $5,000 or more. Unions will also be required to detail how much they spend on political activities and lobbying, on union administration and on strike benefits.

In its executive summary, the Labor Department said: "More transparency and disclosure are needed. While most union leaders are people of integrity, there are still bad apples. In fact, over the past five years, convictions for union corruption have averaged 11 per month."

Labor leaders pointed out that the new rules were issued the day after the House of Representatives voted down the administration's overtime proposals, which unions had lobbied against, saying they would deprive millions of workers of overtime.

"The Bush administration's rules are craftily designed to weaken unions - the strongest advocates for American workers - as our nation prepares for the 2004 elections," said AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney.

Edmund Frank, a Labor Department spokesman, said the regulations' timing had nothing to do with the overtime vote.

Sweeney said the rules would require huge amounts of paperwork for 5,000 labor organizations, and would cause the dumping of a large amount of minute information into the Labor Department's database at major expense.

Rep. Sam Johnson, a Texas Republican who is chairman of a subcommittee on employer-employee relations, praised the rules: "Today's action by the department will help ensure that the country's unions will be held to a higher standard. This means that millions of rank-and-file union members will know exactly how their hard-earned dues are spent."

The regulations require unions to estimate the percentage of time each union official and employee spends on political activities, on union representation matters, on administration and on other business. This will help government officials determine whether unions are evading campaign finance requirements.

"There are good reasons and bad reasons that labor is opposed to these rules," said Carl Biers, executive director of the Association for Union Democracy, a New York-based group that advocates for union members' rights. "The good reason they oppose it is the administration's intent is clearly to undermine unions' increasing political activities.

"The unsavory reason for opposing it is these rules will make it easier for union members to discover corruption by union leaders. Unfortunately there is a bureaucratic mentality even in honest unions that they should avoid giving information to their members."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.