Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations, opened a new round of union democracy hearings Mar. 17. The first hearing focused on extending financial reporting and other requirements of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (Landrum-Griffin Act) of 1959 to cover public-employee unions such as the scandal-ridden Am. Fed. of State, County and Municipal Employees. Testifying before subcommittees was 1) Professor Clyde Summers, Univ. of Pa. Law School, 2) Herman Benson, co-founder of the Ass’n for Union Democracy and 3) Professor Stanley Aronowitz of City Univ. of N.Y. The three stressed the necessity of the statute, while conceding that it has not always prevented abuses from occurring or stopped union officials from violating the spirit of the law, if not the letter.
Boehner said he has not decided whether he will reintroduce ex-Rep. Harris W. Fawell’s (R-Ill.) union democracy bill as it was introduced in the last Congress or expand the measure into other areas. However, he indicated during the hearing that he intends to conduct a “series” of hearings on union democracy issues.
Aronowitz, who endorsed extending the law to state and local workers, observed that as many as one-third of all union members in America are public workers and that many of them are not subject to the LMRDA. Findings of corruption within AFSCME Dist. Council 37 in recent months, he said, is “a stark indication of how outmoded is the concept that, of their own volition, state and local governments can, and will, protect union democracy and ensure clean labor unionism.” Aronowitz said the easiest way to address the problem in legislation would be merely to eliminate the current exemption in the law for public employees.
In closing his remark, Summers took a petty shot at conservatives by saying: “In my view those who are not fully committed to promoting and encouraging the practices and procedures of collective bargaining have no standing to discuss, much less demand, union democracy.”
Benson testified that one of the biggest weaknesses in LMRDA is a lack of tough enforcement by the Dep’t of Labor. He said this was due to the fact that DOL’s mission is more often than not attuned to that of organized labor, making it politically difficult for government officials to pursue vigorous enforcement of laws governing the conduct of union officials. One solution that has been proposed in the past, he said, is to transfer enforcement authority to another more neutral department such as the Dep’t of Justice. However, as loyal readers of the Union Corruption Update well know, it is DOL that has uncovered and rooted out union corruption far more often than the politicized DOJ which has messed up its oversight of the Laborers, Teamsters and the Hotel and Restaurant Employees unions. [BNA 3/18/99]