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Opinion: Protect labor on Labor Day

Arthur Rosenfeld

Monday will mark 125 years of recognizing the immense contributions of the American worker to our country.

Established as a federal holiday in 1894, Labor Day pays tribute to our nation’s workers.

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Task Force in Southfield is sending about 40 middle and high school students to civil rights sites.

When discussing working men and women, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” The American workforce knows the truth of this statement. The Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) takes it to heart as well.

This year carries special significance for OLMS. We are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the passage of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA). The Wagner Act, the Taft-Hartley amendments and the LMRDA are the trilogy of labor-management relations laws that converted an era of acrimonious and (sometimes) violent disputes between management and its workers into a system that promotes discussion instead of discord.

The LMRDA set out a path that that was true to our American values where individuals could make decisions on their workplace with their conscience and free from corruption or intimidation. This mission protects the dignity of each worker -- an important element in any workplace.

The Office of Labor-Management Standards bears the responsibility for administering and enforcing the LMRDA. The Act establishes democratic standards for conducting union officer elections, ensures union financial integrity, and promotes labor-management and union transparency through the administration of a comprehensive reporting and disclosure program.

OLMS works on behalf of and with the members of America’s labor unions every day as part of the Trump Administration’s efforts to ensure there is both compliance assistance and enforcement. The federal employees at OLMS understand how the cumulative effects of their work further the interests of the American worker and the U.S. economy by protecting the integrity and democracy of labor organizations. 

Over the past 10 years, OLMS staff have amassed more than 159,000 contact and compliance assistance hours with labor organizations. Compliance assistance has been integral to the OLMS mission and the shared union goal of ensuring that unions are working efficiently and effectively in the best interest of their members. This assistance helps a union’s leadership comply with the law. It means helping unions identify and remove embezzlers and other bad actors. It includes help in navigating required reporting forms, and overseeing fair elections.

Our compliance and enforcement efforts work to repair the damage done to union members by those that have betrayed their trust and committed criminal violations.  OLMS has secured $58 million in restitution ordered or paid, for the benefit of union members, over the past 10 years.

Former U.S. Senator Robert Griffin, R-Michigan

Most recently, OLMS launched an updated search tool for the public to find and review the financial reports submitted by unions. The tool will make it easier for anyone to access important information about a union’s financial management of member dues, and thus makes the reports themselves that much more useful.

As a tribute for the work of OLMS after 60 years of administering the LMRDA, the Department of Labor will induct former U.S. Senator Robert Griffin and former National Labor Relations Board member Howard Jenkins into the Hall of Honor. Both individuals had a significant impact on the formation and enactment of this important legislation.  This ceremony will take place in September 26th to tell that story and will celebrate the past, present, and future of promoting union democracy and labor-management transparency. We shall do so with greater vigilance than ever and let that be the legacy of OLMS on each Labor Day for the next 125 years.

Arthur Rosenfeld is the Director of the Office of Labor-Management Standards at the U.S. Department of Labor.