Stickin’ (It) to the Union

The usually invisible Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) reached a milestone in late February: Indictment No. 5,000, announced in a monthly police blotter that listed seven labor officials sentenced, five entering guilty pleas, and seven others indicted.

At the OLMS, statistics matter. Last month at the American Conservative Union’s political convention in Washington, D.C., Labor Secretary Elaine Chao did the numbers on union officials indicted, convicted, or sentenced, based on OLMS investigations. In a soporific speech in the Omni Shoreman’s basement ballroom, Chao said that 875 indictments and 820 convictions since 2001 are proof that the OLMS is doing its job. Then she ripped the Democratic House for cutting $2 million from the agency’s budget. “This little agency whose budget comprises one-tenth of one percent [of the Department of Labor budget] was cut $2 million below this year’s actual numbers,” Chao said. “Perhaps it’s merely coincidental that OLMS has done a great job of protecting workers from coercion, fraud, and other issues.”

The non-profit Center for American Progress found a different story when it reviewed OLMS numbers. A December report that didn’t get the press coverage it deserved described cooked books, exaggerated numbers, and an obsessive pursuit of union officials—some of whose crimes had been reported by fellow union members before the OLMS got to them.

The center found that the 111 convictions the OLMS reported in 2004 had been double-counted. In actuality, there had been only fifty-seven guilty pleas or convictions of union officials in that year. The agency was also in touch with the anti-union Center for Union Facts, which used OLMS reports to amplify the message that the Labor Department had corrupt union goons on the run.

The OLMS is also demanding financial disclosure unlike anything union members have seen since the Landrum-Griffin Act was passed in 1959 to ensure that unions operate transparently and legally. A standard procedure that previously required select union officers to file two-page forms identifying potential conflicts of interest has been expanded to a nine-page declaration aimed at more than 100,000 lower-level union officials.

The Bush administration has filled sub-cabinet offices with partisan apparatchiks, and the Labor Department is no exception. Don Todd never worked for the federal government before he was appointed director of Office of Labor-Management Standards in 2001. He had no management experience, and members of his staff disclosed that they don’t believe he graduated from any college or university.

A Republican opposition researcher, Todd started out with legendary attack dog Lee Atwater. In 1988 Todd dug up the file of an obscure Massachusetts felon who had committed a murder in South Carolina while on furlough from a Commonwealth of Massachusetts prison. Atwater made Willie Horton’s menacing (black) countenance the centerpiece of George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign against Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis. When Bush won, Todd was named “RNC Man of the Year.”

Two years before he was appointed to run the Labor Department office, the Chicago Tribune profiled Todd:

 

Todd toils in a dim basement office in the Ronald Reagan Republican Center near the Capitol. His computer screen-saver says “Convict Clinton.” The shelves in his office are lined with volumes of the Congressional Record, each bristling with self-incriminating Democratic quotes ready to be plucked out. Other shelves are occupied by dozens of “fact books” on Democratic senators, each a sort of anti-biography vilifying its subject, with the victim’s name scrawled on the spine: “Byrd.” “Harkin.” “Bryan.” “Levin.” “Bingaman.” “Nunn.”

Todd is from the hard-hitting school. “If you’ve got the facts, every time the guy opens his mouth you ought to be able to shove it right back down his throat,” he said.

Since 2001, Todd has applied the skills he acquired in the Reagan Center basement to his position as director of OLMS, where his management team is stacked with GOP political operatives: Dan Loos from the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee; Sean Redmond, who had worked on the advance staff of George Bush’s 2000 campaign. The result is an anti-union bias in an agency charged with monitoring union compliance with federal law.

“They’re doing great work!” said Secretary Chao.