Please Don't Let Unions Play Hide-and-Seek with Teachers' Money

Hide-and-seek can be a lot of fun, but not when someone else — especially some big group — is playing it with your money. That’s why my friends at the Independence Institute make such a big deal about government spending transparency. But what about transparency for teachers who belong to, or have to pay fees to, a union?

Following the story of the Indiana state teachers union that lost millions of dollars of members’ money through gross mismanagement, James Sherk and Dan Lips from the Heritage Foundation wrote a great piece for yesterday’s National Review Online called “Shady Dealings”. They explain how teachers unions have fought having to shine light on their financial activities:

The Alabama Education Association and 31 other state teachers unions — including the Indiana State Education Association — filed suit against the Department of Labor, contending that the government should exempt them from disclosure. After several rounds in court, they lost — but not before delaying the implementation of the reforms by several years.

In hindsight, it’s clear why the now-former head of ISTA opposed increasing union transparency. While the regulations that the union leadership attempted to block didn’t apply to the Insurance Trust, how likely is it that this was the only incident of fraud or mismanagement in ISTA? Transparency and accountability protect union members from abuses of power by those who should represent them.

Union transparency seems to me like common sense, and a classic case of powerful special interests (Big Labor) vs. diffused personal interests (teachers and other education employees). My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow recently wrote a paper calling for Colorado to set the standard for pro-worker transparency (PDF).

While our state waits to take on this problem, Sherk and Lips also point out that the leaders of our national government are actually working to roll back union transparency:

President Obama wants greater transparency from businesses, banks, the government — everyone except the union movement. This clearly benefits the union leaders, who will become less accountable to their members. But it’s hardly the change Obama promised to bring to Washington.

So much for the little guy. While I think it would be cool and fun to play hide-and-seek with President Obama’s daughters, I don’t think it’s cool or fun for President Obama to help big labor unions play hide-and-seek with money that belongs to teachers and other workers.