A Wider Lens: 2023 Enforcement Results

A magnifying glass on a computer keyboard.When I started as director of the Office of Labor-Management Standards almost three years ago, my vision for the agency included “[e]xpanding the scope of our public reporting functions, to improve transparency and the public’s understanding of OLMS data and other data that reflects on the forces that shape the American workplace.” In pursuit of that ideal, we expanded the information about OLMS enforcement activities on our website to put the data in context. The results highlighted in our newly released 2023 annual report paint a picture of organized labor consistent with our historical enforcement data: that our oversight ensures workers and the public can have confidence that American labor unions regulated by OLMS operate democratically and with financial integrity.

Labor unions are vital to our economy and democratic society. Compliance with the requirements of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, or LMRDA, helps strengthen labor unions. Democratic governance and financial integrity ensure that unions can fulfill their mission to members – and to the nation as a whole.

The past year’s enforcement results show LMRDA violations continue to be rare. Even with a spike of election complaints received during fiscal year 2023, only a small fraction of union officer elections held resulted in member complaints to OLMS. And an even smaller fraction – about 0.17% – resulted in OLMS setting elections aside because our investigative findings substantiated an LMRDA violation that may have affected the election outcome.

The same picture emerges from our criminal program. There are roughly 200,000 union officers and employees in unions covered by the LMRDA. In 2023, OLMS investigated 155 cases involving allegations of criminal conduct. Of course, opening a criminal investigation does not mean that criminal conduct actually occurred. And while criminal convictions lag in time following the opening of an investigation, the fact is that we obtained 57 convictions in 2023, a number relative to the number of opened investigations that is in line with our historical enforcement results. Of those 57 individuals convicted, 44 were former union officers, 9 were former union employees and 4 were employers, vendors or others whose criminal conduct affected union funds. In most of these cases, courts ordered the convicted defendants to make restitution.

A full understanding of the “message” that comes from a review of our enforcement data is a key part of contextualizing our work. But our enforcement data is only one part of the picture when it comes to the work the Labor Department does to protect America’s workers. The department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Employee Benefits and Security Administration, and Wage and Hour Division are a few of the other labor agencies with worker protection missions. Like us, these agencies track enforcement data and report results by various worker protection metrics, whether it be number of safety hazards abated, recovered wages, restored pension funds or other measure. For example, in fiscal year 2023, the Wage and Hour Division recovered over $274 million in wages owed to more than 160,000 workers.

There are also federal government agencies outside the Department of Labor committed to protecting workers’ rights – and these agencies similarly track and report enforcement results. Collectively, these agencies return hundreds of millions of dollars in wages and benefits to workers. For example, in fiscal year 2023, the National Labor Relations Board recovered over $53 million in back pay for workers who had been discriminated against by employers for exercising their protected rights to support a union of their choice. In 2022 (the latest data available), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recovered nearly $650 million for employees who had been economically injured by discrimination.

Finally, it is worth remembering that the very unions OLMS regulates are themselves devoted to worker protection by obtaining reinstatement and back pay through negotiated grievance and arbitration provisions for workers improperly disciplined or discharged, or for other violations of their collectively bargained agreements.

What conclusions can one draw from this data? Cross-agency comparisons are tricky – the scope of agencies’ enforcement programs, the size and composition of their regulated communities, and the resources available to carry out their mandates differ widely. And while it is certainly true that one union officer election conducted in violation of the democratic norms we expect from unions, or one union officer or employee who victimizes their union and its members is one too many, the enforcement data reported by all of these agencies shows many more workers are wronged in their workplaces by employers than by union officers and employees.

OLMS is committed to its mission of safeguarding democratic principles and union member finances, all in service of the LMRDA’s stated national policy of “protect[ing] employees’ rights to organize, choose their own representatives, bargain collectively, and otherwise engage in concerted activities for their mutual aid or protection.” Our efforts to remedy even the relatively rare instances of law violations by unions or their officers ought to provide the American public with confidence in the integrity of those unions.

Jeffrey Freund is the director of the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.