- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

On Thursday, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) submitted to the Labor Department its audit of the brewing scandal in the Washington Teachers Union (WTU). Calling the embezzlement of more than $5 million over six years a "crisis," the AFT report brings to light new incidents of malfeasance, including $120,000 in union money used to pay off charges to a private Diners Club credit card.
In the grand scheme of things, $120,000 may seem like just a drop in the bucket. But early warning signs should have alerted the AFT that something wasn't right. The WTU, for instance, failed to submit its biennial internal audit as required since 1995. And despite considerable deficits that the WTU said prohibited it from hiring an in-house accountant, the union's president found it within the organization's means to employ a six-figure salaried chauffeur. For now, at least, the AFT has done the responsible thing and investigated the matter diligently.
Regrettably, however, the AFT is fighting to perpetuate the circumstances that allowed this kind of chicanery in the first place. Together with the National Education Association (NEA), the AFT is vigorously opposing a Department of Labor request that their state and local affiliates make public their book-keeping. In an effort to better inform the rank-and-file about how their dues are spent, national unions are required to file financial disclosure forms. But groups like the AFT and NEA have long maintained that their state and local affiliates are separate entities, and, as such, are exempt from federal sunshine laws.
Thankfully, this looks to change. In a rare bout of reason, the liberal Ninth Circuit ruled last year that state affiliates of national unions are one and the same. The Labor Department has now sent notice that it expects these intermediary unions to file. Naturally, the NEA and AFT have balked at doing so. But, as if only to prove the point, last week the NEA and its affiliates responded with a joint lawsuit that contends their functions are not interrelated.
If the WTU scandal has proven anything, it is that both the parent unions and their state and local affiliates are best served by full and open disclosure. A little increased accountability helps to ensure that scandals like the one engulfing the WTU are caught early or don't happen at all.


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