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Through a Glass Darkly By: Michael Reitz, J.D.
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, February 12, 2009

I applauded President Barack Obama's commitment to a new era of openness. He pledged, "Let me say it as clearly as I can: transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."

Then why is he helping unions hide information from their members?

Over the last eight years, former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao modernized the reports the unions file under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. These reports are posted online, and provide union members with detailed information about union income, expenditures, officer salaries, and other financial information. The requirements, initially championed by John F. Kennedy when he was a senator, require unions to operate in a transparent fashion with their members. This transparency has helped publicize some questionable spending by union officials, including huge outlays for booze, movie tickets, steak dinners, golf outings, and equestrian dinner theater (yes—a horse show with food).

The Dept. of Labor recently updated the annual disclosure form that most large unions are required to file. One revision required unions to report the value of benefits paid to officers and employees in order to provide an accurate picture of compensation received by union employees.

On January 30, the Obama administration announced plans to delay implementation of the rule by 60 days. The office is also seeking comments "on the merits of rescinding or retaining the rule."

And that’s not all. An AFL-CIO memorandum obtained from Obama’s transition team details organized labor’s wish list for the new administration.

The AFL-CIO’s “Priorities for Day 1” include halting implementation of disclosure rules than have not gone into effect—a recommendation Obama followed with the January 30 rule delay.

In Obama’s first year, the AFL-CIO wants the president to roll back the modernized disclosure rules that Secretary Chao enforced under the Bush administration. These rules, which were upheld in federal court, have benefited countless union members.

In its memo to the Obama transition team, the union complained “the record keeping and reporting continues to impose significant financial burdens.” The AFL-CIO cried the same tale of woe when the Department of Labor proposed the rules in 2003, saying that it could cost organized labor more than a billion dollars to comply. But the first year of compliance only cost the AFL-CIO $54,150.

Listed as a “High +” priority, AFL-CIO asks the Department of Labor to instruct staff who investigate union corruption to not “exceed the scope of complaints when investigating allegations misconduct.” The DOL’s union investigative wing has uncovered hundreds of cases of corruption, and their efforts have resulted in recovering tens of millions of dollars in embezzled funds have been returned to union members. Imagine Bernie Madoff instructing the SEC not to look too carefully at his past actions. Absurd, right?

Labor unions helped put Mr. Obama into office, yes. But that's no excuse for squashing an accountability tool that helps rank-and-file workers keep tabs on their union. Congressional Democrats revealed their loyalties last year when they cut the funding of the Department of Labor’s union accountability office.

If President Obama wants to prove his commitment to transparency, and to the American worker, he should resist organized labor’s attempt to escape the glare of public review.

Michael Reitz is general counsel of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Washington.

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