Thune Proposes Heightened Disclosure Requirements for Unions

Legislation would increase transparency

Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) / AP

Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) has proposed legislation that will tighten disclosure requirements for labor unions.

The South Dakota Republican introduced the Union Transparency and Accountability Act on Wednesday in an effort to reinstitute longstanding union transparency practices that the Obama administration rolled back.

The legislation would force labor unions to disclose potential conflicts of interest, money held in union trusts, and the details of their assets. Thune told the Washington Free Beacon that the legislation would better protect workers by showing them how dues money is spent.

"It’s ironic that one of the early actions taken by the self-proclaimed ‘most transparent administration in history’ was to roll back financial transparency regulations," he said in an email.

Thune said that the administration’s repeal of the three provisions represented political gamesmanship, rather than concern for workers. Putting the measure back in place would help restore trust between union members and leaders.

"By repealing union financial transparency rules, the Obama administration clearly sided with the union bosses who helped get the president elected over union members and their right to know how their dues are being managed and spent. This is cronyism at its worst, and it needs to end," Thune said.

Labor watchdogs applauded the legislation. Ryan Williams, a senior adviser at Worker Center Watch, said rigid disclosure rules helped to avoid the financial scandals that engulfed labor unions in the early 20th century. Unions rake in hundreds of millions of dollars every year and transparency is key to holding union leaders accountable.

"Since the Obama administration repealed financial disclosure requirements, tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars have been funneled into worker centers and union front groups across the country," Williams said.

If passed, the proposal would give the Department of Labor increased flexibility in enforcing the disclosure rules. Under existing rules, unions perform annual audits and provide the information to the department. The Obama administration removed several key components of those reports that critics say serve the union interest, rather than the intent of the 1959 Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, the first law designed to enforce union transparency.

Thune’s legislation would provide workers and regulators a more thorough and comprehensive view of union operations. Williams said the proposal represents a "positive first step in providing needed accountability" of union activities. It would also make it easier to detect malfeasance in labor organizations.

"We applaud [Sen. Thune] for addressing this important issue, tackling union corruption, and fighting for greater transparency in Big Labor’s financial activities," Williams said.