- - Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Calls for increased transparency in government should include making labor unions disclose how they are spending members’ money. 

This week marks the end of the public comment period on a proposal by the U.S. Department of Labor to increase financial transparency and democratic procedures for labor unions. Labor unions have significantly changed since labor financial reports were first implemented more than 60 years ago and these new rules would make them more accountable to the workers they represent. 

The DOL’s proposal would restore a rule of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act first implemented in 1959. The rule would extend the LMRDA to cover certain state and regional unions that represent only public employees and are part of an international or national labor union. It was announced in 2003 under the George W. Bush administration and subsequently approved by a number of courts, but was later reversed in 2010.

Enhanced transparency is a founding principle of Workers for Opportunity, a project of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which strives to advance the liberty of workers across the country. In public comments WFO submitted in support of the proposed rule, we urged that extending coverage of the LMRDA to more unions would bolster union democracy and financial integrity.

These unions should be subject to the same rules regarding financial disclosure reporting, elections and trusteeships as other unions. Additionally, in the spirit of full transparency and representation, all unions should want members to fully understand what the organization is doing for them and what causes they are supporting financially. 

In its 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public workers have the right to decline union membership. We believe that those individuals who choose to opt-in for membership have the right to know how their hard-earned union dues are being spent.

Workers should have access to this information to determine if funds are being spent appropriately, where political donations are going and if union leadership is effectively representing their interests. This valuable insight can help inform workers when evaluating and electing leadership and deciding if they want to continue their membership. 

As the Mackinac Center contended more than six months ago in a cosigned letter with nearly 30 organizations sent to then-Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, unions have changed since the LMRDA was put into effect in 1959. Few small and independent unions exists today, and intermediate unions are interconnected with national and international unions, which have the power to charter, affiliate, disaffiliate or even put these intermediate bodies under trusteeship. All these unions should be held to the same reporting standards.

Transparency is a key bulwark of American democracy. With the rights of our nation’s workforce as a top priority, workers are right to expect a better understanding of how their union is spending their money. To best execute the DOL’s mission of fostering, promoting and developing the welfare of wage earners and assuring work-related benefits and rights, WFO urges the agency to close this loophole and implement the proposed rule. 

• Jarrett Skorup is the director of marketing and communications at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and its project Workers for Opportunity.

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