There are multiple examples of how President Barack Obama has reneged on his promise to bring “transparency and accountability” to Washington, D.C., but fewer are more egregious than his cow-towing to labor leaders on the issue of union financial disclosure.
By rescinding Bush-era disclosure requirements for labor union leaders, Obama is swinging the door wide open to rampant corruption and systemic abuse. This decision represents a dangerous shift in federal policy – one that will no doubt be exacerbated by Obama’s appointment of top labor leaders to key enforcement positions within the federal government.
Instead of fulfilling his promise of “accountability,” Obama has now put the fox in charge of guarding the hen house with respect to U.S. labor policy. And instead of honoring his pledge of “transparency,” Obama has decided to strip away one of the few tools the public had at its disposal to hold union leaders accountable.
Why are these latest Obama hypocrisies worth noting?
First, they represent “pay-to-play” corruption on a sweeping, fundamental level. Labor unions gave Obama and Democratic Congressional candidates over $100 million during the last election cycle. In addition to these contributions, Obama and Democratic candidates also benefited from the efforts of a 450,000-strong “voter registration and mobilization” army of union employees.
This is where the most glaring hypocrisy comes into play.
Obama’s stunning reversal on the issue of union disclosure is more than just the latest “payback” to union leaders. Sadly, it’s a betrayal of the American workers whose money and sweat were tapped by union big-wigs to help elect Obama and his Democratic majority.
Take Tyrone Freeman, president of the Los Angeles local Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Freeman was forced to resign his post after federal filings showed that he spent hundreds of thousands of union dollars on companies owned by his family members. Freeman also billed the union $8,100 for expenses related to his wedding in Hawaii.
Then there is the case of Annelle Grajeda, executive VP of the national SEIU, who resigned after she was caught paying her boyfriend tens of thousands of dollars with union money, or Rickman Jackson, the Michigan-based SEIU leader who resigned his position after he was caught renting his home to a union-sponsored nonprofit and receiving nearly $200,000 in “surplus” compensation from non-Michigan unions.
Most recently, we have the stunning defeat of Ernie Duran, Jr. – the president of Colorado’s United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7 – who was booted from office after it was revealed that he gave his son Ernie Duran III and daughter Crisanta Duran annual salaries of $134,000. Duran also expensed top-shelf margaritas, a new blue tooth and Denver Broncos’ tickets to union members.
All of these examples of waste and corruption came to light thanks to Bush-era disclosure requirements that enabled the public, press and union members to see how union leaders were spending their hard-earned dues. Unions are compelled to disclose given their various government-granted social powers (including the collection of mandatory dues) and their increasing institutional reliance on taxpayer-funded support services. Were it not for heavy federal involvement in labor policy, unions operating in a free market could insist on privacy and enter into whatever agreements with employers they like. But since the federal government dictates a wide range of rules and conditions (most favorable to the unions), they have assumed a corresponding responsibility to oversee them.
Unfortunately for rank-and-file members, Obama now wants to go back to the “Wild West” system in which union leaders were permitted to spend money on whatever items they wanted without worrying about their members ever becoming the wiser.
How does this approach benefit the workers whose sweat and financial clout ultimately helped elect Obama?
It doesn’t. In fact, it all but guarantees that union employees will never know how their leaders are spending their dues – which is an open invitation to nepotism, cronyism and every form of corruption imaginable.
According to a 2009 Heritage Foundation report, over the last eight years the Office of Labor Management Standards has won 929 convictions against union officials for fraud and embezzlement – resulting in $93 million worth of court-ordered restitution to union members.
Of course the real impact of the union disclosure laws wasn’t necessarily the number of abuses they exposed, but the number of abuses they prevented because union leaders knew that their members would be able to track individual financial expenditures.
Over the last three decades, American workers have been rejecting unions with increasing frequency – with corruption invariably ranking among the top reasons. Rather than living up to his rhetoric and rooting out this corruption, however, Obama seems intent on working with union leaders to cover it up.
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