Almost nobody doubts that come September, Richard Trumka will become the AFL-CIO's next president, replacing the retiring John Sweeney. Having occupied the labor federation's secretary-treasurer position for nearly 14 years, he's done everything his boss and the ideological faithful could ask of him. That's a major reason why he and his slate are running almost unopposed. But more than Sweeney, Trumka, a trained lawyer, has a palpably combative edge, much of it honed during his tenure as head of the United Mine Workers of America.
The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), as Union Corruption Update has noted repeatedly, is a misnamed piece of federal legislation. Its sole ulterior purpose is an expansion of union power at the expense of dissenting employees and employers. And despite the fact that supporters appear willing to strip the measure of its highly controversial "card check" component, the bill (H.R. 1409, S. 560) remains coercive in intent. That's because its less-heralded binding arbitration provision remains. And arbitration, as supporters envision things, would authorize the federal government to write (or rewrite) employment contracts from scratch.
The Department of Labor under President Obama appears to be doing everything it can to accommodate union interests, especially when it comes to investigating corruption. But a few members of Congress are openly objecting. Among them is Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. Hatch on April 22 issued a rebuke to a decision by the department the previous day to roll back new rules designed to make union officials more accountable to the workers they represent. "It is extremely disappointing that the Obama administration is choosing a time of financial crisis to cut investigations into financial corruption solely because it may reside in its own politically constituency," he said.
If transparency is one of the Obama administration's highest orders of business, it hasn't made much of an appearance at the Department of Labor (DOL). On January 20, immediately following the inauguration ceremony, President Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, issued a memorandum advising federal agencies to extend by 60 days the effective date of all regulations not yet published in the Federal Register. That gave the DOL under Secretary Hilda Solis exactly the wiggle room it needed to rescind new requirements to the annual financial reporting form for larger unions, LM-2, finalized during the waning days of the Bush administration.
Running a presidential campaign requires a certain amount of boiling down of ideas into easy sound bites and slogans.The opposition party candidate, in particular, must successfully define himself as the candidate of “change,” possessed of an ability to alter the nation’s course away from the “failed policies of the past.”The Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is no exception.He knows he’s got to win over skeptics with simple messages, but at the same time offer specific proposals for true believers.And as much as any bloc in his party can be, labor leaders and activists are true believers.
Union members, especially those with a pension plan, can count on hearing the following words from their leaders with increasing regularity:“sustainability,” “ecological footprint,” “biosphere” and “renewable.”That’s no mystery.Labor officials lately have been highly receptive to the idea of investing union-sponsored retirement assets with managers publicly committed to protecting the environment.Make no mistake about – promoting environmental quality should be a priority everywhere, in industrialized and developing nations alike.But such activism covers a lot of ground when it comes to assessing and resolving problems.Very often, advocates for ecosystem protection line up behind policies whose consequences are likely to erode corporate self-governance, individual property rights and U.S. sovereignty.In other words, they’re the sorts of people who would not part company with union leaders on most issues of the day.
Union officials have made little secret of their desire to use member benefit plans as leverage to achieve a higher social good.Such a goal, however, may conflict with another, overriding goal inscribed in federal law: prudent and sound asset management.The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, or ERISA, requires fiduciaries of most private-sector benefit plans to base investment decisions solely on the welfare of their participants and beneficiaries.Advancement of broader social objectives, however desirable they might be, is not a criterion.The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in recent years a target of union shareholder activists, recently wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor asking for a clarification of the permissibility of a planned AFL-CIO shareholder campaign.In its response, dated June 27, 2008, the DOL wrote back that it was not.Employers thus won – that is, until the next round.
Theft within a labor organization, like theft within a corporation, can go undetected for years.Union officials have become increasingly sophisticated in how they conduct financial transactions.And like corporate theft, a good portion of union-related criminal activity could have been avoided if potential conflicts of interest were disclosed beforehand.That’s why the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), led by Secretary Elaine Chao, during this decade has been trying to inject more detail into union annual financial reports. The added time and cost of compliance might seem an exercise in needless aggravation, but consider the alternative:ever higher amounts of funds illegally diverted from union accounts into the pockets of their chieftains, families and associates.Labor officials – the honest ones included – understandably don’t like the new rules.Several years ago, the AFL-CIO, incensed over the department’s introduction of a longer Form LM-2 (the one required of larger unions), went to federal court to block its implementation.It lost on appeal in May 2005.But the Washington, D.C.-based federation hasn’t lost its taste for battle with the Labor Department.
Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon of California is the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Education and Labor.As much as any member of Congress, he is attuned to what organized labor is seeking for 2008 and beyond – and the lengths to which unions are prepared to achieve them.He recently shared his thoughts in an exclusive interview for Labor Watch, a monthly publication of a Washington, D.C. nonprofit monitoring group, the CapitalResearchCenter.The unions are pulling out the stops, he noted, and they mean to persuade what remains of the 110th Congress to make good on its legislative pledges, especially the Employee Free Choice Act, which would mandate employers to recognize the results of a simple-majority union card check, thus overriding any possibility of holding a secret-ballot election afterward.
Immigration reform continues to be a hot potato, and perhaps no more so than in Northern California.For the second time in a little over a month, a federal judge in San Francisco has decided to delay an effort by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to enforce the integrity of the Social Security program.Union Corruption Update reported two issues ago that U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney on August 31 had issued a temporary restraining order barring DHS from mailing notices to some 140,000 employers across the nation, warning them about discrepancies between employer and employee Social Security information.These “no-match” letters would be amplified by a separate notice indicating the potential penalties for failing to resolve differences.DHS, under great pressure from the American people, seeks to discourage employers from hiring illegal immigrants.It now will have to wait a little longer.