A new study from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy looks at the ways private-sector unions disclose financial information in public filings and how state and federal law fails to adequately apply these same requirements to government unions. The study concludes by arguing that Michigan should reform its transparency laws to better protect government workers. This recommendation applies with equal force to Missouri, where there are currently no financial disclosure requirements for government unions.
The study highlights several recent cases where a union executive got caught using the union’s coffers as a personal slush fund. In one case, a Service Employees International Union executive used the local he ran to procure lucrative contracts for family businesses. He also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of union dues each year to maintain a posh Los Angeles lifestyle: using union funds to attend a Four Seasons Resort golf tournament, spend big at a Beverly Hills cigar club, and have expensive meals at steakhouses. According to the article exposing this abuse, the average employee represented by this union earns about nine dollars per hour.
In another case, a reporter for the Kansas City Star uncovered a culture of excess at the top echelons of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. The executives at this union, often family members of one another, typically made six-figure salaries, enjoyed first-class travel on private jets, flew to destinations like Paris, Marco Island, and Alaska, and had an executive suite at the Kansas Speedway. All on the worker’s dime.
In the cases highlighted in the study, the abuse of union funds was discovered after journalists reviewed a union’s financial disclosures. Financial transparency allowed union members to find out something was wrong and make the appropriate changes to leadership.
Government workers deserve the same protections as members of private-sector unions. Right now state and federal law allows government union spending to remain hidden. If a union executive representing government employees—like firefighters, teachers, or state employees—is using union funds for personal gain, there is little we can do to uncover it.