- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

House Republicans are trying to expand questions about corporate malfeasance to cover labor unions, traditionally Democratic allies, through a bill designed to make sure unions report to members how their dues are spent.

The bill, which passed the employee-employer relations subcommittee of the House Education and the Workforce Committee yesterday, would allow the Department of Labor to assess fines against unions who fail to report, or who report late. There are currently no sanctions in law for late- or non-filers. Of the 5,515 unions with annual revenue of $200,000 the ones required to report to the Labor Department 83 have not filed the most recent report, while an additional 2,447 filed late.

Companies are required to report the same information, and it is time for unions to do the same, Republicans said.

"We are here insisting on the same type of financial accountability for unions. In short, let's have the same accountability on the top floor as on the shop floor," said panel Chairman Sam Johnson, Texas Republican.

The bill passed 8-5, with all Republicans voting for it and all Democrats voting against it.

Democrats tried to keep the focus on corporations and offered a series of amendments to increase reporting requirements for companies. All the amendments were defeated on procedural grounds as not being germane to the issue at hand, which prompted Democrats to declare that Republicans were avoiding the real issue.

"Nero is fiddling while Rome burns," said Rep. Robert E. Andrews from New Jersey, the panel's top Democrat.

Later in the day, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, held a forum with fellow Democrats to highlight corporate malfeasance.

Even if a bill passes in the House, though, a majority of senators already have shown a reluctance to expand the debate to include unions. Last week, as these senators considered their corporate-accountability legislation, they defeated an amendment that would have required union presidents to sign financial reports the same as what their bill requires of corporation presidents and would have subjected unions to independent financial audits.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican and the author of the amendment, said it would "give American workers the assurances that their labor unions' books have been independently audited the same second layer of protection we have given to corporate shareholders since 1933."

But the amendment failed, 55-43, with all Democrats, 4 Republicans and the chamber's sole independent voting against it.

"I have followed Enron, WorldCom and others very closely and do not recall ever hearing anybody say the root cause of the problem of these corporations was labor unions," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.

Still, some union presidents are facing charges of corporate wrongdoing.

A handful of union presidents who serve on the board of Union Labor Life Insurance Company (ULLICO) sold their shares in Global Crossing before the company went bust, but left the company's money invested, according to stories in the Wall Street Journal and Business Week.

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