What recourse do public employees have when public officials fail to enforce a law intended to protect them?
Recently, a Detroit union official was indicted for spending over $200,000 on travel, furniture and alcohol. In California, the executive director of SEIU has been charged with grand larceny and embezzlement. During the same week, the longtime president of the NYC Sergeants Benevolent union resigned after the FBI raided his office and home as part of a corruption investigation.
Connecticut is not immune to union corruption. However, if this happens, state officials don’t seem to want to know.
Under the general statutes of Connecticut sec. 31-77, the labor commissioner is supposed to collect the annual financial reports of the trade unions which collect dues from public and local administration employees. Written reports must be “verified under oath” and “copies of such reports must be provided to individual members at the regular or special meeting of the labor organization.”
The law also allows an individual member of a union to request that the DOL conduct an audit of his union’s financial records and report the findings to him and his colleagues.
But none of this happens.
Connecticut’s DOL does not enforce this law, even though it has been on Connecticut’s books for decades and is intended to provide transparency and accountability to members of public sector unions statewide.
This lack of enforcement also does union officials a disservice, as they may only now learn that their union has been violating this law for years. As a former union president, I can personally attest that union representatives were unaware of this reporting requirement – likely because it was not enforced by the DOL.
Recent requests from union members to the DOL for their union’s financial reports were met with a brief one-line response from the DOL’s legal director. The statement, in full, reads: “To my knowledge, we have not received the reports.”
The DOL does not say it will request the records and return to those union members nor does it acknowledge the DOL’s lack of enforcement. This blatant disregard for state law amounts to “nothing to do here, so move on” and is completely unacceptable from public officials whose job it is to uphold the law, not ignore it.
These same union members say their unions do not distribute copies of their financial records to their members as required by law. Their only recourse is for the Connecticut Department of Labor to do its job, but instead the Department of Labor seems content to keep them in the dark.
Nationally, union financial filings with the US Department of Labor have contributed to lawsuits against corrupt union bosses. In 2020 alone, the US Department of Labor initiated 120 enforcement actions, many of which resulted in prison sentences and restitution. This record highlights the need for increased oversight, reform and transparency.
In Connecticut, a Superior Court judge noted in a decision involving the Uniform Professional Fire Fighters Association (UPFFA) that there were “personal trips that may not have been reimbursed, suspicious errors with PAC fund balances and the admission of a grossly abusive loan,” which was repaid by a union charity fund. This civil case was settled before the court could fully consider the allegations of embezzlement.
We also witnessed the arrest of a former President and Treasurer of Hamden AFSCME Council 4 for embezzling union dues. At another AFSCME local union, an audit by the national union found over $150,000 in unauthorized payments, leading to the removal of the president and treasurer.
Proper financial reporting is a powerful deterrent, discouraging fraud, embezzlement and embezzlement. But at one point, Connecticut labor commissioners chose to ignore the law to the detriment of dues-paying employees.
Acting Connecticut Commissioner of Labor Danté Bartolomeo is awaiting confirmation from the Executive and Legislative Committee of the General Assembly nominations. Lawmakers would do well to ask why the department ignored the law in the past and its plans to enforce the law in the future.
Frank Ricci is a Fellow of Labor & Special Initiatives for the Yankee Institute. He was the lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Ricci v. DeStefano and was a union official for 16 years, retiring after winning two terms as president of the New Haven Fire Department.