In the heart of Washington, DC, in the halls of the U.S. Department of Labor, officials are considering a new rule that would require more unions across America to be transparent about their finances and membership.
In bureaucrat-speak, it’s called the “intermediate bodies” rule. Basically, it would mean that some mid-level unions with only public-sector members, such as a few state affiliates of the NEA, would now be required to create and publicize detailed annual financial reports. Most large unions with any private-sector members are already required to do so. In fact, it’s how we do our annual analysis of PSEA spending.
Naturally, the NEA isn’t pleased about the proposal and this month flooded the Department of Labor’s website with hundreds of identical form-letter comments from members. Many commenters didn’t even bother to fill in and customize details like providing their local union name. (So much for having a thoughtful and informed membership).
Financial transparency is important because many union members cannot track how their dues are spent, since they pay to local, state, and national branches of a union. The state and national unions then turn around and spends dues on a variety of causes (many of them political).
For example, an Oklahoma public school teacher may pay dues to her local association, the state-level Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), and the NEA. The OEA, however, isn’t currently required to report on what it does with its money, even though it received well over $1 million in support from the NEA in 2019, gathered from the dues of teachers all around the country. That’s a major gap the Department of Labor is trying to rectify.
The Department has identified at least 139 unions who would be required to make reports under the new rule, mainly in the NEA, AFT, Fraternal Order of Police, and the International Association of Fire Fighters. Americans for Fair Treatment (which runs Free to Teach) submitted a comment supporting the rule change, as did a couple of our teacher members.
One of them, longtime union member Frank T., summed it up well: “The big unions like the NEA aren’t forthcoming at the local level about how they use teachers’ dues…teachers need MORE union transparency, not less.”