There is nothing illegal about the AFL-CIO officers and Executive Council spending their March 3-5 meeting at the Fontainebleu Hotel in Miami Beach, where a single room goes for $324 a day plus tax. But many people say that such lavish spending is in bad taste, while so many of the nation’s workers have lost their jobs and their homes.
Actually, the amount of money spent on the Fontainebleu meeting, while remaining a secret, is peanuts compared with the tens of millions of dollars the AFL-CIO annually spends without any kind of financial report for its 11 million members. If you are curious to find out about AFL-CIO’s expenditures, you won’t get it from the Federation’s headquarters in Washington. Nor will you get any figures from the Internet. The AFL-CIO has a long-established policy of telling its members as little as possible, especially about financial matters.
When President Obama’s stimulus package was presented to Congress, legislators had an opportunity to review its contents and offer amendments before its ultimate passage. By contrast, union members are not shown the budget, either before or after its approval by the Executive Council.
Since there is no oversight of the AFL-CIO, leaders are understandably tempted to use Federation funds for their personal gain or to cover up expensive failures of projects that never should have been undertaken. With no one looking over their shoulders, AFL-CIO leaders can create new perks or “earmarks” for themselves, including salary increases and promotions for their staffs. They can hire as many outside consultants as they want and not worry about the price. It's a heady experience, especially its privacy, and you can understand why top labor leaders are trying to hold onto it.
International union affiliates of the AFL-CIO are also guilty of the same lack of transparency and accountability as the parent organization. It is worth noting that there is not a responsible organization in the country that would give an unsigned blank check to its officers, without some kind of financial control over their operations. Outsiders must think we are both docile and dumb to take so much guff from labor leaders without talking back.
AFL-CIO Leaders See No Objections from the Rank-and-File
It is a fact that union members have rarely complained about how AFL-CIO leaders are spending their money. They have not reacted to the contempt that labor leaders have shown toward them by denying them their basic rights as members. Does transparency, accountability and union democracy no longer matter?
There are union folks who will argue with a waitress over the price of a meal or complain about the charge at a parking lot, but will not give a thought about not knowing how their dues money is spent.
It is time to ask not only about the state of the unions, but the state of union members, Why are they so passive and silent about the treatment they are getting from their leaders? Do they still believe in unions? How do they show it? How do they see the future of unionism? These are important questions to clarify if the AFL-CIO hopes to grow in numbers and bargaining strength.
We invite officers and members to give their views on these questions. on our new rank-and-file web site: www.laborsvoiceforchange.org
Article 17 of “Labor’s Voice for Change” will be posted on Thursday, March 12.