U.S. labor union locals are being audited by federal government inspectors in what officials say is part of a labor law enforcement campaign and union leaders charge is payback for opposing President Bush's reelection.
"We kind of looked at it as something of a shot across the bow of labor," said Bob Frase, executive assistant to the secretary-treasurer of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE).
The union, based in Nashville, has advised its local units to expect audits this year. PACE represents 275,000 workers in the paper, chemical and energy industries.
The inspectors are being sent by the Department of Labor to audit the locals' annual reports of income and expenditures required by U.S. law.
"This administration is strongly dedicated to enforcing the law," said Labor Department spokeswoman Pamela Groover. "Employers and unions who abuse workers are going to feel the impact."
The department has increased enforcement of safety and pension laws in addition to tightening rules on labor unions, Groover said. The AFL-CIO said the audits were meant to burden all labor unions.
"It means diverting time from critical work to a massive amount of paperwork," said AFL-CIO spokeswoman Suzanne Ffolkes. "It's not surprising given their record on working people. They've been anti-labor since Bush's first term."
At a PACE local representing workers at two Houston-area refineries, the Labor Department auditors arrived in early January and stayed for two weeks, said David Taylor, secretary-treasurer of PACE local No. 4-227.
"They came in every day and stayed all day," Taylor said. "They said it was our first audit since 1983. My secretary's been here 25 years and she said she had never seen this before."
The auditors asked the local to reclassify some expenditures and refile the reports but found nothing improper, Taylor said.
"I've got a very good bookkeeper," he said.