Last year, four truck drivers talked to federal investigators about safety problems at Gaines Motor Lines. A week later, they were fired. Now the Department of Labor has ordered Gaines Motor Lines to reinstate these whistle-blowers and pay more than $1 million in back pay and damages.
While the law protected these workers, it did not protect Rian Wathen, Peggy Collins, and Herman Jackson. The former officers of the United Food Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 700 in Indianapolis (allegedly) found their union president using union funds for his own benefit. They revealed this to their Local’s executive board. The next day the president fired them. Unlike the truck drivers, they did not and will never get reinstated or compensated for revealing malfeasance and corruption.
Union officers such as Wathen, Collins, and Jackson cannot turn to the law for protection from retaliation. No law protects them. Of the many labor laws enacted by Congress, none shields union employees from retaliation from their unions. This exemption makes little sense.
The Union Integrity Act (H.R. 3637), introduced by Representative Matt Salmon (R–AZ), intends to fill this gap by extending whistle-blower protection to employees of labor unions. Whistle-blower protection laws exist to help authorities discover illegal behavior and abuses. Without legal protections, workers who witness corruption have two options: (1) speak out and risk their jobs, or (2) keep quiet and go along. Given the risk, many employees make the latter choice and do not expose their superiors. Whistle-blower laws encourage employees to do the right thing—and help the government root out corruption. Union employees should have the same protection that other workers enjoy.
Unions collect an estimated $14 billion in dues and other assessments each year. Given the magnitude of these sums, and union officers’ fiduciary responsibility to use this money for the benefit of their members, unions should not have the power to retaliate against whistle-blowers without legal consequences. The Office of Labor-Management Standards charges over 100 union officials a year with embezzling or misappropriating funds. The union officers witnessing these abuses should receive the same protection as workers in private businesses or government agencies.
The Union Integrity Act would protect honest union employees who stand against corruption. What rationale justifies giving them fewer protections than employees at private companies?
Filip Jolevski is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.