- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Last month the Labor Department proposed new rules that will require the largest labor unions to more thoroughly disclose how members' dues are spent. The reporting changes thus far have gone virtually unremarked upon, but the proposal promises to be one of the biggest shake-ups to organized labor since the governing legislation, the Landrum-Griffin Act, was first passed in 1959.

The wonder is that it took this long. After all, corruption in the organized labor movement has been one of the constants in life. Indeed, it was central to the Landrum-Griffin Act's conception. In testimony before the Senate's labor committee in 1959, then-Secretary of Labor James Mitchell detailed several instances of union graft, including $6,663 in dues from the Western Conference of Teamsters which "found their way into the purse of an interior decorator, who was engaged by the conference to redecorate the private residence of the conference secretary-treasurer." Other Teamsters dues, said Sec. Mitchell, were spent on "custom-tailored suits for the chairman and his horse trainer." And in 1956, the president of an AFL-CIO affiliate pilfered $25,000 for entertainment, dinners and "personal" expenses. "No bills were submitted to support any of these vouchers," the labor secretary noted.

Forty years later, little has changed. For all its good intentions, the Landrum-Griffin Act had woefully inadequate financial reporting requirements, and over the years union dues have been easily diverted to enrich corrupt union bosses. In 1999, for example, after the scandal-ridden tenure of Gus Bevona finally came to an end, it was discovered that the president of New York City's Service Employees International Union local had scammed millions of dollars from the janitors' dues to purchase fancy cars and furbish a luxurious penthouse suite. Just last month, federal agents seized $2 million in loot from the leaders of the teachers union here in Washington, including custom dresses, wigs and fur coats. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors continue to bag Ironworkers officials involved in a scam to conceal $1.5 million in food, booze and golf outings.

Of course, transparency benefits the rank-and-file everywhere, whether they are shareholders in a corporation, citizens of a government or members in a union. But that's not how John Sweeney sees it. The AFL-CIO president now sounds like one of the corporate fat-cats he railed against all last year. The reporting requirements, he says, are "burdensome," "onerous," and "clearly punitive." Given the clear record of union corruption that rips off the rank-and-file, Mr. Sweeney's comments should give a good indication of whose interests union leadership is looking out for.

In a report released two months after the Landrum-Griffin Act was made law, Mr. Mitchell vowed to end labor chicanery. "I intend to see to it that these functions are performed as the Congress intended, for the benefit and protection of individual workers and the public. No honest trade unionists or their organizations … have cause to fear that this law will harass them in the execution of their legitimate activities. But crooked union leaders … will be dealt with summarily whenever they are found." For 40 years, labor bosses and Democratic politicians have ensured that corruption is not found. Now that both houses of Congress have slipped from their grasp, that sorry era may be drawing finally to a close.

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