UNION DEMOCRACY AND CORRUPTION Often it is charged that unions are not democratic enough or are corrupt. In reality, unions are some of the most thriving democratic institutions in our society and serious corruption exists in only a tiny minority of unions. Much of the data for the following statements come from WHAT DO UNIONS DO?, a 1984 book by Harvard University economics professors Richard Freeman and James Medoff. The most complete survey available on union democracy is a 1977 survey of union members by the University of Michigan Survey Research Center. They found that of workers who had been at a company more than three years: 76% had gone to a union meeting 73% had voted in a union election 16% had been elected to or nominated for an office in the union 28% had taken advantage of union services to file a grievance Only 3% of union members surveyed cited lack of democracy as a serious problem in their unions. Other studies (cited by Freeman and Medoff) have shown that local union leaders are replaced at rates of 20 to 60% each time elections are held, a turnover of officers at the local level that goes against the stereotype of local "bosses" holding onto power for long periods of time. In the Steelworkers for example, a review of locals showed in 1973 that 42% of local Presidents were in their first term, 55% of vice-presidents were new, and 40% of treasurers were new to their office. There is less turnover at the national level. Roughly 9 to 12% of national presidents are replaced each year. The average term of a national union leader is eight years, still a quite reasonable term of office when compared to other democratic institutions in our society. How about improper conduct in elections? The US Department of Labor found that from 1965 to 1974, there were only 239 charges of improper conduct out of over 200,000 elections held in the period, a rate of violations of approximately 0.1%. This is consistent with the survey of union members which shows that lack of democracy is minimal in unions. So unions are quite vibrant and democratic institutions with high participation and high turnovver of leadership, two signs of their democratic nature. So, what about corruption? There are a small minority of union locals that are corrupt, focused in a few building trades areas (New York is notorious) and the Teamsters. In 1978, estimates by the Attorney General's office were that 300 local unions had serious corruption problems. However, this was 300 out of 65,000 union locals, so less than 1% of union locals had any serious corruption problem. Let's compare that result to a survey by FORTUNE magazine in 1980 of corrupt acts in 1,043 large US corporations. They defined corportate corruption as "bribery, criminal fraud, illegal political contributions, tax evasion, and criminal anti-trust violations." The FORTUNE survey found that 117 corporations, or 11% of the total, had at least one serious violation in the period and some had been cited more than once. In total, there were 188 citations. Since the study excluded foreign bribes and kickbacks, it underestimated the possible violations. If the study had been extended to smaller companies, FORTUNE notes that the violation rate probably would have been higher, since "the bribing of purchasing agaents by small manufacturers and the skimming of receipts by cash-laden small retail business are a commonplace of commercial life." So compared to businesses, unions are more honest on average and engage in much less corruption. And the scale of corporate corruption, from S&L fraud to environmental crimes is much more costly to society. The media, however, focuses its attention on the union exceptions. Most unions are honest and democratic as the above information shows.