- The Washington Times - Friday, September 27, 2002

Republicans and some outside interest groups want to ensure that labor unions aren't ignored in the continuing fallout over corporate malfeasance by Enron and other major companies.

The House Education and the Workforce employer-employee relations subcommittee held a hearing yesterday to highlight union violence as part of an overall trend of workplace violence.

The hearing comes as one interest group is running television ads on the subject, and follows subcommittee votes over the past few weeks to pass legislation to force better disclosure from unions to members about how union dues are spent. It also follows calls for investigating an accounting firm working for some labor unions.

"We must hold union leaders accountable for their actions in the same way we are holding corporate leaders accountable," said Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the committee, in a statement this week.

"Our goal is to give rank-and-file union members the opportunity to have a full, equal, and democratic voice in union affairs," he said. "Unfortunately, our hearings have shown that some union leaders are serving their own interests, and not those of the workers they claim to represent."

At the hearing yesterday House members saw a video of a 1999 strike at an Ohio steel plant that showed union members smashing the windows and beating the doors of cars of workers who crossed the picket line.

But union officials and some Democrats, while criticizing violence, said the issue is a smoke screen.

"As corporations continue to loot millions of dollars in employee-contributed pension assets, I believe the committee's focus today is off," Rep. Donald M. Payne, New Jersey Democrat, said at the hearing.

Lane Windham, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO, said the effort to broaden the corporate malfeasance debate is falling on deaf ears.

"I think most people see the Republicans' focus on union 'scandals' for what it is everybody knows about these failures in corporate America, everybody knows about Enron," she said. "I think Republicans have failed really to divert attention from that among everyone except their own right-wing base."

Ms. Windham pointed to the results of the AFL-CIO's annual Labor Day poll, which found record-low confidence in corporate chief executives but a strong desire for union membership.

Still, Republicans and interest groups see a clear strategy. Among the efforts:

•The National Taxpayers Union is running a television, radio and newspaper ad campaign to urge passage of a bill to prohibit union violence against workers. The 30-second television ad is running, among other places, in South Dakota and Missouri, home states of Democratic leaders in the Senate and House.

•Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, introduced a bill yesterday that would allow federal prosecution of assaults and other violent crimes committed during a union strike. The bill is a companion to one sponsored by Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican.

•The subcommittee last week passed on party-line votes two Republican-backed bills that would allow the Labor Department to sanction unions that fail to report how they spend union dues.

•Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican, has asked the National Labor Relations Board to look into Thomas Havey LLP, an accounting firm. A former partner at the firm, which, according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, audits the books for 30 unions, including the AFL-CIO and two dozen of its affiliates, admitted in federal court last month to helping an ironworkers union hide from union members at least $1.5 million in unauthorized expenditures.

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