Labor Dept. New Office In Las Vegas

Unions mixed on effect of new labor office in Las Vegas

By Alana Roberts
<alana.roberts@lasvegassun.com>

LAS VEGAS SUN

Some Southern Nevada labor leaders believe a one-woman U.S. Labor Department office in Las Vegas is an example of the Bush Administration’s closer scrutiny of organized labor.

But others said they believe the new downtown Las Vegas office will make it easier for workers to get answers to labor-law questions.

The Labor Department’s Las Vegas branch of the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) was opened in order to conduct more investigations into the financial disclosures and elections of labor unions, as well as answer questions of labor leaders and union members about potential violations and union disclosure requirements, said Labor Department spokeswoman Deanne Amaden.

The OLMS enforces laws that ensure labor unions are fiscally responsible and disclose their finances. The office also works to ensure that the unions are run democratically and that union elections are run fairly.

The Las Vegas branch office opened in October.

Labor Department spokesman David Martin said the OLMS has five regional offices, which have four district offices each around the country. He said there are 13 resident investigator offices around the country similar to the one in Las Vegas. He said the Labor Department opens a new resident investigator office roughly every two years.

Amaden said it made financial sense for the Labor Department to open the branch office because over the past three years labor department officials were frequently traveling to the Las Vegas Valley to investigate complaints and to oversee elections. She said the office’s resident investigator will also be available to answer questions union officials and members have about labor laws.

"There’s a couple of side benefits of having somebody there," Amaden said. "She’s going to be able to develop better relationships with local organizations and unions and local law enforcement officials. It’s going to make it easier for us to do our job, whether its investigating complaints or compliance assistance."

But Marc Furman, senior administrative assistant of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, said the Labor Department has been increasingly more watchful of unions under the administration of President Bush. He said the opening of this office is a reflection of that.

"With all of the budget cuts, they manage to create a new office that regulates us," Furman said. "I don’t know that they’re cracking down, but they’re watching us closer."

Furman said the Labor Department’s efforts to toughen up financial reporting requirements for labor unions last year are an attempt by Bush’s administration to stifle labor unions’ ability to effectively lobby politicians.

The Labor Department said it implemented stricter financial reporting requirements on the Form LM-2 annual reports labor unions are required to submit to improve the financial accountability of labor unions. The requirements went into effect with the fiscal year beginning in July. The first LM-2s will be due in September.

"My view is it’s about Bush’s administration," Furman said. "While corporate America is running wild and ransacking corporations, the Bush administration has made it a commitment to keep an eye on unions by making the disclosures more difficult. I gather they feel unions are raising too much money for political purposes."

He said John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, has made it a commitment to spend more money on political lobbying efforts and that the Bush administration is targeting unions because of it.

In October 2003 Labor Secretary Elaine Chao defended the rule changes in a news release.

"In this era of accountability and transparency, updating the financial reporting requirements will empower and protect workers who trust their unions to represent their interests," Chao said.

The AFL-CIO filed a lawsuit against the Labor Department in November 2003 objecting to the increased filing requirements. U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled in favor of Chao in the case in January 2004.

Chao touted Kessler’s decision in a January 2004 news release.

"This decision is a major victory for rank-and-file union members and affirms that the new union transparency reforms are inherently reasonable. Because of this ruling, union members will have access to meaningful information on their union’s fiscal health, management and priorities."

The AFL-CIO appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where the case is still pending, Deborah Greenfield, associate general counsel of the AFL-CIO, said.

"We argued to the court of appeals that the secretary exceeded her authority under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act by requiring itemization of expenditures of $5,000 or more," Greenfield said.

She said the increased reporting requirements are not helpful to the average union member in understanding the union’s finances but are the kind of information anti-union organizations are interested in.

"The union reporting requirements are done in the name of transparency," she said. "All you have is a mass of minute information that a union member would never make sense of. Many unions had to completely retool their record keeping. There are millions, if not billions of dollars being spent to comply with this."

She said the new reporting requirements force unions to report just about every expenditure they make during a fiscal year.

"It’s interesting in an era in which the department is cutting money for many programs they have increased their staff for investigations of union finances," she said. "It comes as no surprise that they would open an office in one of the fastest growing union towns in the country."

Martin denied that the Labor Department has been growing the OLMS office.

"I don’t think its really grown in that area," he said. ‘

The Office of Labor-Management Standards enforces the Labor-Management Reporting Disclosure Act of 1959, which provides a bill of rights for union members for financial, electoral and administrative disclosure requirements for labor organizations. The act also specifies reporting and disclosure requirements for employers and added protections for union funds and assets. The office also administers provisions of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 and the Foreign Service Act of 1980.

The new office is in the Bible Federal Building on Las Vegas Boulevard South, and is staffed by Andrea Camilleri, an OLMS investigator.

Camilleri will need to get approval from the OLMS district office in San Francisco before opening an investigation. The Labor Department works with unions to settle disputes however if no settlement is reached the labor department will file a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

There have been several recent instances where Labor Department officials have either supervised or investigated Las Vegas Valley union elections. One dispute is currently part of a lawsuit the Labor Department filed against a local union.

The Labor Department supervised the December election and a January runoff for the International Alliance of Stage Employees Local 720. The local battled the international union’s use of a trustee to supervise the local, a disagreement that was settled when the trusteeship was dissolved by a U.S. District Court Judge on Jan. 10.

Laborers Union Local 872 is currently involved in a lawsuit the Labor Department filed on behalf of a union member demanding that the union rerun a mail-in election originally held in September 2003. In the lawsuit the Labor Department alleges that union leaders sent out campaign literature after ballots for the election went out. Union leaders have argued that the problem occurred because of a delay with the mailing company.

Hal Ritzer, president of IATSE Local 720, said the new federal office will make it easier for union leaders to address questions to Labor Department officials.

But he also agreed with Furman that the enhanced Form LM-2 requirements are more difficult and costly to comply with and are an attempt by Republicans to weaken unions.

That said, Ritzer is unsure about Furman’s allegation that the new Las Vegas office is a part of that effort.

"I don’t know that this office here is going to facilitate that in any way," Ritzer said.

Tommy White, business manager and secretary-treasurer of the Laborers Union Local 872, also said the new office will be helpful in addressing the questions of union leaders. But he also said the office could be used by individuals who want to abuse the system.

"I think if you use the Department of Labor correctly, then fine — any type of help we can use is great," White said. "But for the people that use the Department of Labor just to use them I think it’s a bad idea. When we re-run our next election, I’m going to ask the Department of Labor to sit in on it."

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