The Corner

Why No Protections for Union Whistleblowers?

The Senate will soon vote on the nomination of Richard Griffin as General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB). If confirmed, Griffin would become the first active defendant in a RICO suit to serve as General Counsel. Credible allegations of covering up union corruption are apparently no obstacle.

The suit stems from Griffin’s tenure as the top lawyer for the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE). James McLaughlin, the Business Manager of IUOE Local 501 in Los Angeles, suspected embezzlement from the Local’s apprenticeship fund. So he investigated Dennis Lundy, the fund’s manager. He allegedly found that Lundy had spent tens of thousands in union funds for his own benefit — including (allegedly) false reimbursements that funded breast-implant surgery for his mistress.

McLaughlin confronted Lundy with the evidence and asked him to repay the money. However, Lundy had friends in high places — including Vince Giblin, general president of the IUOE. According to the suit, Giblin instructed McLaughlin to drop the investigation. When he refused, Giblin ordered him to resign. When McLaughlin refused that, Giblin threatened to put Local 501 into trusteeship and make him “the Business Manager of nothing!” Griffin allegedly served as Giblin’s go-between during these discussions, conveying his threats to McLaughlin.

Unlike employees in many other industries, union officers lack whistleblower protections. The law does not prevent unions from punishing employees for exposing corruption. With no legal recourse, McLaughlin stepped down, while Lundy got promoted to Regional Director at the National IOUE headquarters. Depart of Labor filings show Lundy made $223,000 last year.

These allegations do not appear to bother President Obama or the Senate. The “world’s greatest deliberative body” voted Griffin out of committee without investigating them. Such nonchalance sends a disturbing message to union officers who uncover corruption: Who cares?

Congress should not be so blasé. After McLaughlin left the IUOE, he filed a RICO suit alleging Lundy, Giblin, and Griffin’s conduct amounted to racketeering. But winning a RICO conviction requires proving a criminal conspiracy. Honest union officers should not have to clear such a high bar to avoid retaliation from union bosses.

The law shields whistleblowers from retaliation in other industries. The Dodd-Frank Act contained extensive protections for those exposing financial corruption. Congress should extend similar protections to those exposing union corruption. Union honchos such as Richard Griffin and Vince Giblin should not have the power to intimidate upright subordinates. Integrity should not cost union employees their jobs.

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