In-Depth: Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) introduced this bill to protect union whistleblowers:
“Currently, union employees who uncover and report misconduct are vulnerable to retaliation by unions. This must be changed to protect these brave whistle-blowers from corrupt union bosses who threaten them or unfairly fire them. Corruption in unions is rampant; for example, high-ranking officers at the United Auto Workers (UAW) have been caught taking bribes. Without whistleblower protections, rank-and-file union employees are afraid to report these actions for fears of losing their jobs. The Union Integrity Act will right this wrong and protect union whistleblowers from being fired for reporting illegal behaviors, the same protections government and private business employees enjoy. This will encourage workers to report corruption and stop union abuse of employees.”
James Sherk, a Senior Policy Analyst in Labor Economics in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation, writes in support of whistleblower protections for labor union employees:
“Union employees need whistleblower protections as much as employees of other organizations… Union officers are only human. The Office of Labor-Management Standards convicts about 100 union officials a year for embezzling or misappropriating funds. The people most likely to witness such abuses are union employees. The law puts them in an impossible situation: If they keep silent, they can be sued for breach of their fiduciary duty. But if they speak up, they can be fired… Union employees should be free to speak up about corruption or violations of their unions’ fiduciary duties. A union employee should not have to choose between paying his mortgage and following his conscience. This is a bipartisan principle. As George Miller (D–CA), ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, stated when arguing for other whistleblower reforms, ‘It’s deeply troubling that workers who risk everything to blow the whistle on fraud and other serious matters remain exposed to employer retaliation and other harms.’ Unions should not be permitted to retaliate against employees who expose corruption. Congress should create whistleblower protections for union employees under the Labor–Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. This would protect honest union officers and encourage them to reveal corruption—helping to root out corruption in the union movement. A union employee who witnesses misconduct should not have to choose between his conscience and his job.”
This bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce with the support of three cosponsors, all of whom are Republicans.
Of Note: There are numerous laws in the U.S. protecting whistleblowers in general, including the Americans With Disabilities Act, Superfund Law, and Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Federal employees are covered by a separate Whistleblower Protection Act, and the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, which was intended to fight union protection, seems to provide whistleblower protections in union cases. However, the Supreme Court ruled in Finnegan v. Leu (1982) that whistleblower protection law only applies to rank-and-file union members, and not to employees of the union itself, except in cases involving expropriation of pension funds.
As a result, union employees are not shielded from retaliation from their unions. Existing whistleblower provisions prohibit retaliation against an employee for reporting violations of the law that the employer is included in (i.e.g, dumping toxic waste or using child labor), but don’t protect employees from being fired for exposing corruption or other misconduct. Thus, union presidents can legally fire employees for exposing corruption, and senior union officials can be fired by union presidents for virtually any reason, including reporting misconduct. Nothing in the law shields union officials from retaliation for whistleblowing, even though they’re the people most likely to uncover corruption.
This has had serious consequences for some union employees, such as Rian Wathen, Peggy Collins, and Herman Jackson — former officers of the United Food Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 700 in Indianapolis who alleged that their union president was using union funds for his own benefit. When they went to their Local’s executive board with their allegations, they were fired by the president the next day. The UFCW International later denied their attempts to appeal their terminations.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / designer491)