UNIONS AGAIN OPEN THEIR FINANCIAL DEALINGS FOR REVIEW
Not only did the new year arrive a few days ago, but also the next round of LM reports began showing up as well. Unions file these nationally and locally with the Dept. of Labor to open their financial operations to members—at least a little bit. Union members, and especially local officers, should never complain about knowing what the union is doing with their dues money or future if they have not looked over these annual reports. If you want to check out you own national or local click on over to the DOL search site for these reports. Select the union you are interested in and whether you are looking for a local or national’s report. You can also enter a local’s number and on the bottom of the page the fiscal year if you want to target the search more precisely. Here are some things to look for in these reports.
- Is membership growing, flat or decreasing? Obviously, decreasing is bad and should convince all of that union’s national and local leaders to make growth the number one priority. That means spending money on it with top dollar incentive plans, something other than the traditional PR pieces to boost visibility, training, and long-term planning. While AFGE is not a perfect union, it deserves great credit for the foresight its national leaders showed early in this century to make membership growth a priority They shared more national power with local leaders, opened their mind to new ideas, experimented aggressively, and started changing the culture in those councils and locals that had built a leadership culture around chronically low membership. In short, AFGE leaders led. As a result, AFGE It has increased its net membership by over 50% since Y2K growing for 197,000 members then to 319,000 now. None of the other federal employee unions even came close to that success. Unfortunately, a unions’ current membership health is not likely based on recent leadership actions. Membership growth today depends primarily on what leadership decisions were made five and ten years ago.
- Compare the “Dues and Fees” income on line 36 of the current LM with the previous year’s data. Again, is it going up or down? Don’t be fooled by the bottom line number in this section of the LM. The investment market has been good to many people for the last 18 months, yielding investment income to help hide a problem with dues income.
- Schedule 11 and 12 also are packed with interesting information about how responsibly the union is spending member dues. They contain the salaries of each the elected officers and staff member by name. While there are a lot of little things that can be done with that information, the most important is to assess how much of the union’s assets are going into salaries rather than other critical priorities, e.g., membership political education, local leader training & development, new member incentives, information technology, alliance building, etc. Those are the far more critical elements of boosting union strength than keeping staff compensation on the high side. Right behind that in importance is to benchmark how high officer and staff salaries are compared to the highest paid union members, the federal GS scale, the SES scale and other unions. Should unions pay staff substantially more than the salaries given SES executives who run major federal agencies? If they do, they open the union to attack from any of many unfriendly parties eager to condemn unions as bloated operations that exist merely to line the pockets of union leaders. That is generally a very unfair criticism, but cheap shots in the political arena are a reality. If you want to avoid them, lower your vulnerabilities.
These reports are not going to tell you everything you might want to know about financial operations. If you want more check out the IRS Form 990 reports that you can find on Guidestar.org among other sources. The 990 reports are generally available free of charge.