The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently announced that it will induct two individuals who were the principal architects of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA, or Landrum-Griffin Act) to its Hall of Honor. With the ceremony scheduled to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the LMRDA, the honorees will be former U.S. Senator Robert Griffin and former National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) member Howard Jenkins, who each played a critical role in ensuring the LMRDA’s passage in 1959.
Congress passed the LMRDA following a two year examination by the Congressional Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field, also known as the McClellan Committee, which conducted “253 active investigations, served 8,000 subpoenas for witnesses and documents, held 270 days of hearings, took testimony from 1,526 witnesses (343 of whom invoked the Fifth Amendment), and compiled almost 150,000 pages of testimony.” The committee’s work revealed “a number of instances of breach of trust, corruption, disregard of the rights of individual employees, and other failures to observe high standards of responsibility and ethical conduct.”
The instances referred to included various conspiracies by officials in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to extort business owners and to gain control of Oregon’s legislature, state police, and state attorney general’s office “through bribery, extortion, and blackmail.” The committee also investigated several other unions including the Bakery Workers Union, United Textile Workers, Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union, Transport Workers Union, and United Auto Workers, which currently finds itself in a modern-day corruption scandal.
The LMRDA contained several different provisions to ensure union democracy and transparency with the goal of making union officers and employees more accountable to their members. The first part of the law includes a “bill of rights” for union members that guarantees equal rights and freedom of speech and assembly. It also specifies how internal union elections are to be conducted, requires a vote to raise dues and fees in a local union, imposes on union officers and others a fiduciary duty, and protects members from retaliatory discipline.
The bulk of the LRMDA, however, lays out a financial reporting requirement for labor unions, their officers and employees, employers, and labor relations consultants. These requirements provide the much-needed transparency the McClellan Committee found to be woefully lacking through its investigations. As a result of the malfeasance discovered, the LMRDA also adds criminal sanctions for willful violations of the law.
The two men being inducted into DOL’s Hall of Honor, Griffin and Jenkins, ensured that the LMRDA contained meaningful reforms to thwart bad behavior and provide transparency where none existed previously. As the law’s partial namesake, Griffin secured its passage in the House of Representatives, in which he served at the time. Jenkins served as a special assistant in DOL’s office of the solicitor and was heavily involved in the drafting of the legislation. As a result of their collective efforts, the LMRDA has provided union members and the public with crucial information about the financial practices of labor unions, deterred corruption, and promoted union democracy and accountability for sixty years. Inducting Griffin and Jenkins into DOL’s Hall of Honor seems an appropriate tribute to two individuals whose work greatly improved the organized labor movement.