The Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), an agency within the U.S. Department of Labor, performs a thankless, but necessary task: keeping the nation’s unions honest. Congressional Democrats, many of them beholden to campaign contributions from organized labor, understandably have no more need for the agency than do their benefactors. And now both houses have approved respective spending bills that would reduce agency funding. Back in July, the House of Representatives, as part of a larger appropriations bill, rejected by 186-237 an amendment offered by John Kline, R-Minn., to restore OLMS funding to last year’s level. The vote effectively set the office’s fiscal 2008 budget at $45.7 million, down from $47.8 million in fiscal 2007. Now the Senate has endorsed the House bill, and by a razor-thin margin. On October 18, lawmakers voted 46-47 to reject an eleventh-hour amendment introduced by Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., that would have restored the OLMS budget to last year’s level, and added another $3 million.
OLMS is charged with promoting transparency and conducting investigations. It collects and reviews LM-2 and other union financial reporting forms, making sure that revenues and expenditures are in accordance with the Labor-Management Relations and Disclosure Act of 1959, commonly known as the Landrum-Griffin Act. And it probes unions whose finances are not in order. As unions are not required to undergo independent audits, OLMS is the only real protection that union members have in ensuring their dues are going for authorized purposes. As reporting forms are now filed online, the public has easy access to data, including labor officials’ salaries and other income. Viewers can find out, for example, that United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1288 (Fresno) President Don Hunsucker made $679,949 in 2006, while International Longshoremen Association General Secretary-Treasurer Robert Gleason pulled in $431,908. As for agency investigations, OLMS probes since 2001 have produced more than 800 convictions of dishonest union officials, employees and associates, generating more than $100 million in court restitution orders.
The Sessions amendment’s added spending would have been fully offset by spending reductions for administrative activities in the Labor, Education and Health & Human Services Departments. The vote occurred almost entirely along party lines, with two Republicans voting with the Democratic majority: Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Ted Stevens (Alaska). DOL Assistant Secretary for Employment Standards Victoria Lipnic expressed dismay following the vote. “Today’s Senate action hurts rank-and-file union members by cutting the budget of the enforcement agency that ensures they know how their hard-earned dues are being spent and that protects them from election fraud, embezzlement of union dues and other financial abuses,” she said. She probably speaks for more than a few members. (PR Newswire, 10/18/07; Wall Street Journal, 10/22/07).