Viewpoint: Learn About Unions’ Operations This Labor Day

 

By Mark Codd, SHRM-SCP August 30, 2018
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​Union members—and employees who are considering joining or even leaving one—want to know what's happening in unions that want to organize or are already representing their workplace. This desire for transparency in union operations comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME. In that decision, the court ruled that nonunion workers cannot be forced to pay union dues to public-sector unions.

HR professionals intuitively understand the importance of transparency when providing benefits information and other solicitations directed to employees. However, when employees consider affiliation with a labor union, HR professionals are often at a loss on how to respond. Thankfully, there are public sources of information that enable transparency in labor union operations.

According to Mark Mix, the president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, today's workers are increasingly unwilling to tolerate compulsory unionization. "The right-to-work movement is driven by today's workers who are increasingly interested in the details of how union officials operate and spend workers' dues and fees."

Some of the most useful data for covered labor unions can be found in the following reports, maintained by the Department of Labor's Office of Labor Management Standards (OLMS):

  • Labor Management (LM) reports, notably the LM-2. 
  • IRS Form-990.
  • Union bylaws. 
  • Union constitution.

Unions must supply each of these reports to federal agencies, and they are subject to penalty for material inaccuracies. Most of the government reports are filed with the OLMS.

The OLMS was created in response to investigations of labor union corruption in the late 1950s, prompting the passage of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA). The LMRDA also mandated disclosures of both labor and management's practices involving labor relations. Chief among these disclosures are electronic searchable labor-management reports and actual collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). Unfortunately, relatively few current CBAs are available on the OLMS website. Mix said that the website should only be a starting point for research.

HR professionals and workers can examine union financial reports, union officer and employee information, and other reports regarding specific unions free of charge via OLMS' Online Public Disclosure Room. The OLMS produced a simple YouTube tutorial video, "How to Use the OLMS Website to Conduct a Union Search," on how to access and use their reports.

 


HR professionals should familiarize themselves with the content and use of these reports to respond to their employees' inquiries. This is especially true during election campaigns to either organize to achieve union representation or to vote out union representation.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Complying with U.S. Labor Relations Laws in Nonunion Settings]

Here is an overview of the four reports:

LM-2 Reports
While there are many LM reports, the LM-2 report is submitted by larger labor unions and provides a year-to-year overview of the labor union's organizational structure, dues, number of members, salaries for labor union employees, details on major expenses and revenue details. Labor unions file this report with OLMS every March. 

IRS Form 990
Labor unions file this form annually by the fifth month of their accounting period. The form provides details of the major accomplishments of the union to justify maintaining its tax-exempt status. The form also includes information about the union's organization, governance, assets and liabilities, along with other detailed financial information. Copies of Form 990 can be accessed from ProPublica.

CBAs

The OLMS Online Public Disclosure Room has hundreds of actual collective bargaining agreements. Most are expired agreements, but it is a good start for research on contract terms for a union.

Labor Union Constitution and Bylaws
The labor union constitution describes its organizational structure. It includes the fundamental principles that govern the labor union's operation. In the bylaws, one can find the rules that enable the labor union to function. Most importantly for the employee, the bylaws contain the rules and requirements for which the covered employee can be held accountable. Many labor union bylaws contain provisions for placing employee members on trial for violating union rules. 

The LMRDA requires that labor unions disclose in their bylaws the following practices and procedures:

  • Authorizing disbursement of funds.
  • Selecting officers and other union representatives.
  • Protesting a defect in the election of officers.
  • Disciplining and removing officers.
  • Fining, expelling and suspending members.
  • Ratifying contract terms.
  • Authorizing strikes.
Both the constitution and bylaws are required upon the formation of the labor union and must be filed within 90 days of the end of the fiscal year in which the bylaws were amended. Employees can search for the bylaws of any labor union, international or local, at the OLMS Online Public Disclosure Room.

An August 2018 study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University's Lloyd Corder, Ph.D., and based on a survey of 311 public-sector union members, indicates that 6 percent of union members have stopped paying union dues in response to the Supreme Court's Janus decision, and an additional 25 percent plan to stop paying union dues. More data from the study is available at The Janus Juncture: An Evaluation of Public-Sector Union Members' Responses to the U.S. Supreme Court Ruling.


Helping your workforce understand the labor union of their affiliation, or contemplated affiliation, is an important employee transparency need. Providing employees with the information on how to access these reports is another way to support employees and promote workplace transparency on matters that directly affect them. 

Mark Codd, SHRM-SCP, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management's Labor Relations Special Expertise Panel, is the director of labor relations for Publix Super Markets, headquartered in Lakeland, Fla.

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