House Subcmte. Exposes Need for Legislation to Increase Union Democracy

Witnesses testified on June 24 before the House Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee on the importance of three legislative proposals (H.Rs. 992, 993, and 994) introduced by Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) to reform the 1959 Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA).  Also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, the LMRDA requires union officials to make certain disclosures to union members about their democratic rights and the union’s finances. 

The Labor Management Accountability Act (H.R. 993) for the first time allows the Labor Secretary to assess civil penalties on unions and employers that either file late, or fail to file at all, financial disclosure reports.  The Union Members’ Right-to-Know Act (H.R. 992) clarifies that unions must disclose to union members certain information about their rights.  The Union Member Information Enforcement Act (H.R. 994) authorizes the Labor Secretary to investigate union member complaints of a union’s failure to meet LMRDA disclosure requirements and bring suit on their behalf to enforce the law.

The Johnson union democracy bills are intended to ensure greater transparency and accountability for rank-and-file union members, and guarantee that the Labor Department has the authority to safeguard the rights of millions of working union members across this country.

“It is clear that Congress expected through the passage of the LMRDA to ensure that union democracy would be the first line of defense against union corruption, and that, armed with knowledge, union members would elect leaders who work in their best interests, and rid themselves of corrupt union officials who serve their own interests,” Johnson said.  “Since 1959, the American workforce has changed. However, the LMRDA has not.”

Citing the fact that more than 43 percent of unions either filed their financial disclosure reports late or failed to file at all during 2002, Larry Yud, deputy director at the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, testified that “a significant number of unions consistently fail to comply with the statutory requirements that they timely file annual reports with DOL detailing their finances. The end result is that unions may ignore the statutorily-imposed deadline [for filing under the LMRDA] … without consequence.”

Because of deficiencies in current law, Yud said, the Department “does not have sufficient enforcement tools to protect and inform union members.” [U.S. House Cmte. on Education & the Workforce, 6/24/03]