The Obama administration promised increased transparency in government but has rolled back rules proposed by the Bush administration that expanded the financial disclosure statements required of labor unions and their leaders.
Since President Obama took office, the Labor Department has rescinded or delayed three sets of rules proposed by the George W. Bush administration that would have required unions and their leaders to more specifically detail their finances, according to a review of records by The Washington Times.
The rules were rolled back while the Obama administration was seeking more stringent regulation of corporate America, including banks, insurance companies, health care providers and publicly traded companies.
The proposed Bush rules would have required labor unions to identify from whom they were buying and selling assets, forced union leaders and employees to file more detailed conflict-of-interest forms, and required unions to reveal the finances of hundreds of so-called labor trusts - largely unregulated entities set up to provide benefits for members.
Former Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, one of the architects of the expanded Bush rules, said the Obama administration is “making a mockery of the regulations” and is giving “preferential treatment” to the unions.
“This administration is not enforcing laws on union transparency and democracy,” Ms. Chao told The Times. “They are telling unions that they don’t have to comply.”
A senior Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee has similar concerns.
Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, ranking member on the health, employment, labor and pensions subcommittee, asked Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis in February why the Labor Department had rescinded rules designed to increase transparency in union finances. He said the rollback made it “more difficult for rank-and-file union workers to see how their dues are being spent.”
Mr. Kline said Mr. Obama had “made it a point on a number of occasions to talk about this administration wanting to be the most transparent and open administration in our nation’s history.”
Mrs. Solis told the congressman that transparency was the goal, but the department did not want to “overburden a system where information that was previously asked for may not be of much importance or significance.”
In an April 2009 report on Mrs. Solis’ first 100 days in office, the Labor Department said it was trying to “undo” or “temporarily suspend” Bush administration rules that “had a detrimental impact on workers.” The report said the expanded rules “made the union financial reporting requirements not only overly burdensome but ineffectual.”
To combat a “rush of rules out the door at the end of the previous administration,” the report said, Mrs. Solis had taken “significant steps to undo the most burdensome of these regulations and put in place an enforcement regime that will make union and management transparency a reality.”
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to comment and referred inquiries to the Labor Department.
John Lund, the Labor Department’s deputy assistant secretary for labor-management standards, said a “fair and transparent government regulatory regime must consider and balance the interests of labor organizations, their members and the public.”
“Any change to a union’s record keeping, accounting and reporting practices must be based on a demonstrated and significant need for additional information, consideration of the burden associated with such reporting and any increased costs associated with reporting additional information,” he said.