Whither Union Transparency?

As Barack Obama is sworn in as the nation’s 44th President today, Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) will likely be the next Secretary of Labor. As I’ve noted here recently, her cozy relationship with organized labor should raise concern among not only lawmakers and the public, but among rank-and-file union members who could soon find it harder to find out how union leaders spend their dues. The Department of Labor, under outgoing Secretary Elaine Chao, has enacted stronger reporting requirements. Reports The Los Angeles Times:

The federal government has adopted new financial disclosure rules for labor organizations that officials say would help expose the sort of corruption allegedly found in the largest California chapter of the Service Employees International Union.

The U.S. Labor Department, in the final hours of the Bush administration, has toughened standards to require most unions to publicly report nearly all compensation and expenses for officers and employees, the agency announced Friday.

Also broadened were disclosure requirements for the sale and purchase of property, with the aim of revealing whether any union officers or employees profit from the transactions.

In the alleged SEIU scandal, the Los Angeles-based local’s former president, Tyrone Freeman, has been accused by the union of enriching himself and his family with more than $1 million in misappropriated dues money. The SEIU ousted him after The Times reported on his spending practices last summer.

Unsurprisingly, union chiefs are howling, deriding the requirements as “onerous,” and calling for them to be pulled back — except for one.

An SEIU dissident, however, said he welcomed further disclosure. Sal Rosselli, president of an Oakland-based local, has feuded with the SEIU’s national leadership over the direction of the union. He said the national office has refused to fully disclose how much money it has spent on the internecine fight.

“Transparency on how unions spend their members’ dollars, from our point of view, is wanted,” Rosselli said. “We let our members look at every check.”

Rosselli’s local was recently forcibly merged into a giant “superlocal” with the scandal-riddled local formerly headed by Tyrone Freeman.

Having consistently hewed to the union line, Solis could yet surprise by taking seriously the concerns of Rosselli and others with similar criticisms. Step one is simple: First do no harm. In other words, do not scale back reporting requirements only because union bosses want the Department to do so.

In many states, workers must pay union dues as a requirement for employment, through legally imposed exclusive (i.e. monopoly) representation. Short of reform of this situation, the least workers deserve is to know where their dues are going.

For more on the Freeman scandal see here and here.