View from S. Halsted

Elaine Chao, the Bush-appointed Secretary of Labor, wants to “empower and protect workers” with the new “financial disclosure” requirements her department is imposing on our unions. Thanks Elaine. The administration that has put a dagger in the heart of workplace health and safety, overseen the theft of hundreds of thousands of steelworker pensions, slashed eligibility for time and a half pay, and presided over the loss of 3 million jobs is protecting us from our unions.

A tax and attacks on union membership

The labor movement estimates that the new requirements, which provide no benefit to American workers, will cost unions as much as a BILLION dollars to implement. Figure it out. That’s a new tax of $80 a year on every union member in this country. The new rules create an entirely new, impossibly complex, system of bookkeeping required of no other institution or corporation in America. Not only the national headquarters of unions, but more than 5,000 locals, will have to track and report their expenditures by categories. They must figure not only what percent of each officer’s time went to organizing, administration, political action, and how much of the copying machine’s output could be attributed to each category as well. The Department of Labor (DOL) itself estimates it will take 710 hours of work for each local to comply. Many locals do most of their bookkeeping by volunteer and part-time officers, many working out of their own homes.

In my union, IBEW Local 9, anyone who wants to know about the union’s finances goes to our monthly meeting and listens to the report of our financial secretary, Ed Hamilton. He details the money taken in and all the expenditures, then invites anyone who wants more information to make an appointment to come into the office to go over the books. The president, Fred Hince, asks for any questions from the floor, then takes a vote on accepting the report. Our international union prints detailed financial reports in our magazine, the Journal, and reports are made at the International Convention. If we don’t like what any officer is doing at any level, the members can vote him or her out of office.

Internet Public Disclosure Room

I checked out the DOL’s website to see if Secretary Chao had documented the alleged demand from the rank and file for a billion dollar tax on our unions. Financial data gathered from thousands of unions is featured in the Department’s “Internet Public Disclosure Room.” But the ominously-named site doesn’t make it to the DOL’s list of top 20 most requested items. Rather, workers come to the Employment Standards website looking for information on, more than anything else, the Family and Medical Leave Act, followed by the Fair Labor Standards Act (which enforces overtime pay laws) and minimum wage.

How about some employer disclosure?

By the way, Chao doesn’t have much to say on the issue of employers giving financial disclosure of their “labor relations” activities, even though the law requires it. On April 11, 2001, her department fashioned a big loophole to exempt most employers from reporting at all. Go to DOL’s website and check it out for yourself ( Less than 300 corporations in all of America have been required to file a report on their anti-union activities. Think of all the big-spending, union-busting corporations you’ve read about in the PWW this year – Wal-Mart, Comcast, Verizon, Tyson, Congress Hotel, V&V Supremo, Safeway. Why doesn’t Chao put them in the Internet Public Disclosure Room so the working people she’s so anxious to “protect and empower” can track the money trail of their employers’ anti-labor campaigns?

When former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich unsuccessfully proposed the same anti-union regulations Bush and Chao are putting into force, at least he didn’t try to pretend they were for the good of the workers. An unabashed spokesman for corporate America he told it like it is when he called it “a plan to zap our enemies.” Class war? You bet.

– Roberta Wood (