SHOP STEWARD LIABILITY
It is that time of the year again for hundreds of union officials. They are obligated to file reports with the Department of Labor (DOL) spelling out what they have done with the local’s money over the last 12 months. While DOL rarely reacts with any speed or force if a local is late filing—even very, very late, stewards should know that if their local’s reports are not filed timely they could be financially liable if their employing agency decides to enforce the timely filing requirement. Here is how that would work.
Statute requires that all labor organizations representing federal employees must file these reports. 5 USC 7120(c) states that, “A labor organization which has or seeks recognition as a representative of employees under this chapter shall file financial and other reports with the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Labor Management Relations.”
Regulation requires that the report be filed within 90 days after the close of the union body’s fiscal year. Most locals’ fiscal year ends on September 30, which means reports are due to be filed no later than December 31. It is easy to determine whether a local has filed a timely report because DOL posts copies of the report on its web site:
Consequently, if a local fails to file timely anyone can tell 90 days after its fiscal year closes, especially your agency’s labor relations office.
Currently, nothing stops an agency from denying a union the institutional benefits of a negotiated contract if the union is in violation of the law. Put more bluntly, an agency could announce that every steward who has used official time since the due date of the unfiled report must repay the cost of that official time. Its argument would be that since the report due date the local has been in violation of the law, which calls into question its legitimacy as a labor organization. No federal agency should be funding a labor organization in violation of the law. Consequently, each steward needs to write a personal check reimbursing the agency for any official time hours they used.
Although agencies have mentioned this possibility to union leaders, we are unaware of any agency moving forward on this threat yet. But that does not stop an agency from doing so at any minute. After all, what would be the local’s defense? Would it tell an arbitrator that even though it did violate the law, it should not have to suffer any penalty from the agency? That is an absurd defense. And what about those locals that have not filed for two, three or more years? They are more common than you might guess. Do you think an arbitrator would put his or her name on a decision holding that unions should not be penalized for repeat violations of law?
We raise this for a couple of reasons. First, as just noted, stewards are potentially financially liable if their leaders do not file timely reports. Second, we are big believers in the right of members to see how their local union (or national) leaders have spent their dues money over the last year. They reveal the salary of all the officers and staff as well as their expense reimbursement, the amount of surplus wealth the union has in investments, and anyone the union paid more than $1,000 in the last year. (Smaller locals are not required to release all that information.)
If you are one of those who uses official time and therefore sits squarely in the cross hairs of an agency that wants to put pressure on a union, you should go into the DOL web page and look up your local to see if it has timely filed. If not, …well we will leave that up to you.