What recourse do public employees have when state officials who aren’t enforcing a law meant to protect them?

Frank Ricci

Recently, a Detroit union official was indicted for spending over $200,000 on trips, furniture and booze. In California, the executive director of SEIU was accused of grand theft and embezzlement. During the same week, the longtime President of the NYC Sergeants Benevolent union resigned after the FBI raided his office and home as part of a corruption investigation.

Connecticut is not immune from union corruption. However, if it is happening, state officials don’t seem to want to know about it.

Under Connecticut General Statutes sec. 31-77, the Labor Commissioner is supposed to collect annual financial reports from unions that collect dues from state and local government employees. The written reports shall be “verified under oath” and “copies of such reports shall be furnished to individual members at the regular or special meeting of the labor organization.”

The law also allows an individual union member to request that the DOL conduct an audit of their union’s financial records and report the findings to them and their colleagues.

But none of that is happening.

Connecticut’s DOL is not enforcing this statute, even though it has been on the books in Connecticut for decades and is meant to provide transparency and accountability for public-sector union members across the state.

This lack of enforcement is a disservice to union officials as well, as they may only now be learning their union has been out of compliance with this law for years. As a former union president, I can personally attest that union representatives were unaware of this reporting requirement – likely because it hasn’t been enforced by DOL.

Recent requests by union members to the DOL for their union’s financial reports have been met with a curt, one-line response from the DOL’s legal director. The statement, in its entirety, reads “To my knowledge, we have not received the reports.”

The DOL doesn’t say they will request the records and get back to those union members nor do they acknowledge the DOL’s lack of enforcement. This blatant disregard for state law is the equivalent of “nothing to see here, so move along,” and is completely unacceptable from officials whose job is to uphold the law, not ignore it.

Those same union members say their unions do not distribute copies of their financial records to their membership as required by law. Their only recourse rests with Connecticut’s Labor Department actually doing their job, but instead the Labor Department appears content to just keep them in the dark.

Nationally, union financial filings with the U.S. Department of Labor have contributed to prosecutions of corrupt union bosses.  In 2020 alone, the U.S. Labor Department have pursued  120 enforcement actions, many resulting in prison and restitution payments. This record underscores the need for more oversight, reform and transparency.

In Connecticut, a Superior Court judge noted in a ruling concerning the Uniform Professional Fire Fighters Association (UPFFA) there was, “Personal travel that may not have been reimbursed, suspicious mistakes with PAC fund balances, and the admission of a plainly improper loan,” that was repaid from a union charity fund. This civil case was settled before the court could fully scrutinize allegations of misappropriations of funds.

We have also witnessed the arrest of a Hamden AFSCME Council 4 past president and treasurer for embezzling union dues. In another AFSCME local union, an audit by the national union uncovered over $150,000 dollars in unauthorized payments leading to the president and treasurer to be removed from office.

Proper financial reporting serves as a strong deterrent, discouraging fraud, misappropriation of funds and embezzlement. But at some point, Connecticut’s labor commissioners have chosen to ignore the law at the expense of dues paying employees.

Connecticut’s Acting Labor Commissioner, Danté Bartolomeo, awaits confirmation by the General Assembly’s Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee. Lawmakers would do well to ask why the department has ignored the law in the past and her plans to uphold the law in the future.

Frank Ricci is a Fellow of Labor & Special Initiatives for the Yankee Institute. He was the lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Ricci v. DeStefano and was a union official for 16 years retiring after winning two terms as President for New Haven Fire Fighters.