Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Transparency: Who Needs It?

Bigwigs past and present from the Department of Labor are coming out against a proposal from Congress that would cut the budget of the Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards, the sole agency in the department charged with protecting union members against union leaders. It’s the transparency required by OLMS that makes the Union Facts database of union expenditures (including salaries and political spending) possible. As Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at DOL, wrote yesterday:

Although the president wants to increase the budget of OLMS by $9 million to $57 million, the Democrats’ bill would cut this appropriation by $2 million, or 4%, from the 2007 level of $48 million.In contrast, the Democrats who shaped the bill in the Appropriations Committee would increase spending for all other oversight offices in the Labor Department — including those monitoring mines, occupational safety, wages and overtime, and employee pensions …

It’s not that Congress is cutting OLMS as a sign of new-found frugality. The committee would give the Labor Department $935 million more than the president requested.

Earlier this week, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao wrote a little reminder to Americans of how little transparency actually costs:

The AFL-CIO claimed that it would cost unions “more than $1 billion” and the AFL-CIO alone would spend $1 million to comply. In fact, filling out the new disclosure form cost the AFL-CIO $54,150.Unions had $22 billion in assets in 2005 – riches built on the dues deducted from the paychecks of union members. Union members are entitled to know where their money is going. Congress is all for boosting the Securities and Exchange Commission’s budget so it can ride herd on businesses.

But OLMS – the unions’ equivalent of the SEC – is on the chopping block. Every other Department of Labor enforcement agency – all targeted at businesses – is getting a budget increase. Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the department’s budget goes to OLMS, the one federal entity charged with protecting union members from corruption, and it is the one singled out for budget cuts.

UPDATE: The good guys lost this round.