by James Sherk
While rank-and-file union members embraced President Trump, virtually every major union endorsed Joe Biden. A quietly issued Labor Department regulation helps explain this disconnect. President Biden has put union leaders first — even at the expense of union members.
Late last year, the Labor Department rescinded Trump Administration union transparency regulations. These regulations would have required union trust funds — like apprenticeship funds and strike funds — to disclose their receipts and expenditures.
The Trump Administration reforms were partly motivated by the United Auto Workers (UAW) scandal. Fiat Chrysler paid millions into the UAW’s National Training Center (NTC). The money was meant to train junior union members. Senior UAW officials instead treated the NTC as their personal piggy bank.
Federal investigators discovered UAW leaders used NTC funds to pay off a $262,000 mortgage. They put hundreds of thousands in personal expenses on NTC credit cards. They bought themselves expensive jewelry and designer clothes.
NTC funds also paid for a $30,000 junket to Palm Springs and a $25,000 bash for UAW leadership — including “ultra-premium” liquor and $7,000 in cigars. In total, UAW executives made off with more than $3 million.
Worse, Chrysler knew about this embezzlement — and kept the funds flowing. Chrysler executives wanted to keep UAW leaders — in their words — “fat, dumb, and happy.” Union contracts at Chrysler pay workers significantly less than Ford or General Motors. Chrysler has since pleaded guilty to bribing UAW leadership to accept less expensive contracts. By letting union leaders steal millions, Chrysler saved billions in lower wages and less expensive benefits.
UAW members are incensed. They believe their union betrayed their trust. As one UAW member told reporters, “[t]he unions were meant to defend us against the corporate executives not be in bed with them.”
The Trump Administration regulation could have brought this corruption to light much sooner. Federal law requires unions to disclose how they spend their members’ money generally. But those regulations do not apply to union trust funds— like NTC. Union members don’t see how those funds get spent.
The now-rescinded Trump Administration rule extended transparency requirements to trust funds. Had this rule been in place earlier, the NTC would have had to itemize the spending that paid for a $365,000 Ferrari and $36,000 gold-plated, sapphire and diamond-encrusted pens. Or — more realistically — the transparency would have discouraged the embezzlement in the first place. Either way, UAW members would have been better off.
Unsurprisingly, 90 percent of union members want their union to disclose its spending to ensure accountability publicly. President Trump listened to these concerns. His transparency rule plugged a significant hole in union accountability.
It may seem harder to understand why President Biden rolled this transparency back. Who supports making unions less accountable to their members?
While union leaders theoretically represent their members, their interests do not always align. In this case, they would rather avoid public scrutiny of their spending.
Union leaders pressed the Biden Administration to kill the transparency rule. President Biden complied. This has been a pattern in his career. When union leaders and members’ interests diverge, Biden almost always sides with union bosses over the rank-and-file.
Of course, siding against workers is not the best look politically. Neither is shutting down transparency. The Biden Administration understandably rolled back the transparency regulation very quietly. Biden’s Labor Department killed the rule without fanfare on December 30 — the day before the New Year’s Eve holiday, when most union members and the press enjoyed Christmas vacations.
President Biden proclaims himself “the most pro-union President leading the most pro-union administration in history.” He is actually leading the most pro-union boss administration in history. As UAW members can attest, those are not the same thing.
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James Sherk is the director of the Center for American Freedom at the America First Policy Institute. He previously served as a special assistant to the president in the Domestic Policy Council at the White House during the Trump administration.
Photo “Joe Biden” by The White House. Background Photo “UAW Protest” by UAW International Union.