- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. Union leaders lashed out at the Bush administration yesterday after meeting with Labor Secretary Elaine Chao at a Florida hotel.
"I have never seen a secretary of labor who is so anti-labor," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said after the labor federation's executive council met with Mrs. Chao. The federation has traditionally allied itself with Democratic administrations.
Among points of contention were new financial-disclosure rules the Labor Department is proposing for unions. They would require unions to file annual reports itemizing expenditures.
The rules are a reaction to growing allegations by the Labor Department that labor leaders have been using union funds for their own gain.
In a related issue, Mrs. Chao said the Labor Department is continuing to seek documentation in the investigation it began two weeks ago into stock trades by a Washington insurance company called Ullico, which is owned by unions. Top union leaders invested their own money in the company and reaped $6 million when Ullico repurchased their stock, prompting the investigation.
Ullico provides low-cost insurance for union members.
Mrs. Chao said yesterday she had a list of labor leaders convicted of financial crimes with union money, which showed the need for stricter disclosure requirements.
Her spokeswoman, Kathleen Harrington, said "transparency might have helped" avoid financial abuses by union leaders.
"The membership could not look at how the money was spent," she said.
Ullico's board commissioned a review of stock investments by former Illinois Gov. James Thompson, but the company's attorneys have refused to release it to Labor Department investigators, citing attorney-client privilege.
The Labor Department responded with a subpoena that Ullico is opposing in court.
"We think it's important to have that document to help us in that investigation," Mrs. Chao said. "That is the basis for that subpoena."
Union leaders say the Labor Department's vigilance in the financial-disclosure disputes is not motivated by integrity, but by an effort to interfere with union-organizing efforts.
The proposed financial-disclosure rules are an attempt "to tie unions' hands in knots," said Damon Silvers, the AFL-CIO's associate general counsel. "They'll be having us using all dues revenue on paying accountants."
Union leaders said that if they are forced to report itemized expenditures, they would pressure elected officials to impose the same rules on corporations.
"No corporation in this world is required to disclose itemized expenditures," Mr. Silvers said. "It's just a grotesque double standard."
Union rank-and-file members seemed unaware of any financial wrongdoing by their leaders.
"I have no complaint," said Nurys Calderon, a hotel banquet-services employee in Miami and member of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 355.


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