Robert Bluey

The federal government’s union watchdog agency will have to get by on less next year. The mammoth omnibus spending bill passed last week hacks nearly $3 million from the Office of Labor Management Standards -- a small gift for Big Labor just in time for Christmas.

The budget cut was a setback for the office, which has recouped more than $100 million for American workers since 2001 as a result of increased enforcement. The Bush Administration had sought to increase the agency’s budget to $56.88 million. Now, however, it will fall to $44.93 million for this fiscal year.

Though the cut is unwelcome, the office managed to dodge an even more dramatic change. Democrats dropped their plan to restrict funding for the collection of conflict-of-interest reports. The newly revised LM-30 form had angered union bosses because it requires union officers or employees to “disclose possible conflicts between personal interests and the officer’s or employee’s duty to the union and its members.”

Although the conflict-of-interest requirement dates back to the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, enacted in 1959, the agency’s revised version makes it harder for union officials to avoid disclosing perks such as mortgage deals or car service agreements they receive as a result of their union employment. Only about 40 reports were filed annually in the past; the new rule takes effect on Jan. 1, 2008.

The agency views this greater transparency as a victory for hard-working union members who pay dues but currently have little information about where or how their money is spent. The increased transparency, however, has prompted a backlash among union bigwigs.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney complained last week about the “rank new directive from the Bush Labor Department that adds yet another debilitating burden to unions by requiring more than 100,000 workplace volunteers to report their run-of-the-mill consumer transactions to the federal government.”

Sweeney’s misleading statement gives the impression that unpaid volunteers would have to comply with the conflict-of-interest requirement. In fact, the Office of Labor Management Standards requires only union officials on payroll to file the LM-30 form, and in the case of workers who double as union officers, they don’t need to file a report unless they work more than 250 hours (approximately six weeks) on union business.


Robert Bluey

Robert B. Bluey is director of the Center for Media & Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation and maintains a blog at RobertBluey.com