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Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration issued new regulations Friday requiring the nation's largest labor unions to disclose details of their finances, including how much they spend on politics and lobbying, gifts, overhead and management.

The rules will force national, regional and local unions with income of more than $250,000 to provide much more financial detail in the annual forms they are required to file with the Labor Department. The forms haven't been updated in more than 40 years, administration officials say.

"The current financial disclosure forms that unions file provide little of value to rank-and-file members about their union's finances and operations, and they have failed as an effective deterrent against financial misconduct," said Labor Secretary Elaine Chao in a statement.

The rules take effect next year, though unions will not have to file a report until March 2005.

Organized labor questioned the timing of the announcement - on a Friday, several hours after the Labor Department released its largest monthly report, on unemployment.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the rules were a political attempt to disarm unions headed into next year's elections.

Unions are the traditional political allies of Democrats and mobilize huge numbers of voters for them in elections. Unions and the White House have been at odds since President Bush assumed office.

"The Bush administration's rules are craftily designed to weaken unions, the strongest advocates for American workers, as our nation prepares for the 2004 elections," Sweeney said in a statement. "The rules target unions and go far beyond what is required of corporations or other not-for-profit organizations."

He said the requirements are overly burdensome for 5,000 labor organizations and will give companies the upper hand in unionizing efforts by disclosing financial details.

Under current rules, large unions can lump together much of their transactions. For example, one form filed with the department said a union spent $62 million on "disbursement of grants to joint projects with state and local affiliates." Another reported $4 million spent on "sundry expenses."

Such broad categories make it easy to hide possible embezzlement and mismanagement, Republicans said.

The new regulations "will give rank-and-file union members better tools to hold union leaders accountable for their actions and better, more understandable information for them to judge the financial health and integrity of their unions," said Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., chairman of the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee.

Labor unions fought against the department's initial plan, released in December 2002, and got 30 Republican House members to sign a letter asking the department to start over.

The Labor Department said it received more than 35,000 public comments on the proposal, which led to the exemption of more than 500 smaller unions from filing the most detailed financial report.

The new rule also requires large unions to file a new report for any trusts in which it has a financial interest, and must disclose transactions of $10,000 or more.

Unions also must estimate the proportion of time each officer and employee spends on activities such as representation and politics and lobbying.

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