Politics & Policy

New York’s Scandalous Jail-Guards’ Union Conveniently Doesn’t Have to Disclose Its Spending

It’s been a tough couple weeks for the Corrections Officers’ Benevolent Association, New York City’s jail-guards’ union. Already under the scrutiny of the U.S. attorney in Manhattan since last August over alleged prisoner abuse at New York’s Riker’s Island jail, now the New York Times reports the union itself and its powerful president, Norman Seabrook, are under investigation. And this week, The New Yorker reported that Kalief Browder, the Bronx resident sent to Riker’s as a teenager whose allegations of abuse at the hands of Riker’s guards and inmates had drawn national attention to problems there, has committed suicide.

The union’s misconduct, according to the Times, is rampant. Among other issues, a subpoena served on the union by the U.S. attorney reportedly questions whether labor leaders pilfered union funds — ultimately, taxpayer money — making cash deposits in their personal bank accounts, funding trips, and making “personal purchases” with union money.

In normal circumstances, such abuse is relatively easy to spot, because most unions are required to make extensive financial filings with the Department of Labor, via what’s called an LM-2 form. This document, which is public record, can provide a wide range of information, including union bosses’ pay, where union funds have been spent, whether the union has a political-action committee, “whether the union discovered any loss or shortage of funds,” and the rates of member dues and fees. In other words, it might shed a lot of light on what Seabrook’s union has been up to.

There’s only one issue: The union does not appear to have filed the LM-2. And it may not even be legally required to submit such financial-disclosure documents.

According to Stan Greer, a senior research assistant with the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, “Unions that have zero private-sector (including postal) or federal employee members do not have to file an LM-2 form.” While there have been efforts to reform the relevant Civil Service and labor-relations statutes, Greer says, “so far they have been unsuccessful.”

National Review reached out to the corrections-officers’ union over the last few days, sending e-mails to their president, treasurer, and financial secretary. We asked the union to confirm that they do not have to file the LM-2 or other financial-disclosure documents. We also requested to review their financial documents in the interest of transparency.

None of the officers have responded to our inquiries. Similarly, phone calls placed to the union offices requesting to speak to its leadership have not been returned.

It may be true that New York’s corrections-officers’ union does not have to legally disclose how it spends its member’s money. But it seems clear enough, given the high stakes of the work the union does, that they should be required to do so.

As both political parties begin to question whether tough-on-crime policies have put too many in prison, there’s been more attention paid to the influence of prison-guards’ unions can have in pushing severe sentencing rules. There are also concerns that, as with police unions, strong labor interests have allowed abuses to go unpunished and uninvestigated.

Diligent reporting and investigation has uncovered corruption and cronyism at this particular union, but no such organization should be allowed to hide behind an obvious carve-out. Sunlight is the best antiseptic.

— Mark Antonio Wright is an intern at National Review.

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