Association for Union Democracy

Officer using the union credit card for personal expenses

A: It is illegal.

As Section 501 (c) of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) says,

“Any person who embezzles, steals, or unlawfully and willfully abstracts or converts to his own use, or the use of another, any of the moneys, funds, securities, property, or other assets of a labor organization of which he is an officer, or by which he is employed, directly or indirectly, shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned for not more than five years, or both.”

According to a representative of the Office of Labor Management Standards (OLMS), using the union credit card for personal use is “stealing money from the union, no different from robbing a bank.”

It is legal for a union officer or employee to use the union credit card for food, travel, or lodging expenses that they incur while doing union business. For example, it is legal for a union officer to use the credit card to fly to the union convention in Hawaii, pay for the hotel room, and buy meals during her stay. (Note: you may also want to look into what expenses are authorized by the union constitution and/or spending policies. The union may only authorize a limited amount of spending.)

It is not legal, to take another example, for a union officer to use the union credit card to buy concert tickets for his friends, or a new swimming pool for her house. (Note: if the officer uses the union credit card and promptly reimburses the union for the expense, there may not be a violation of the law. The OLMS discourages this use of the union credit card.)

If you have evidence that a union officer or employee is “abstracting” money from the union and converting it to their own use, including via credit card purchases, you should contact the local office of the OLMS. Tip: the more proof you have, the better. You will have to convince the OLMS that there is a real problem worth investigating.

The potential penalty for stealing from the union is a fine of up to $10,000, and/or up to five years in prison. In addition, under Section 504 of the LMRDA, a person convicted of embezzlement shall be banned from holding union office, or any position involving decision-making power over union funds, for several years (the exact number depends on a number of factors). The guilty party is also subject to expulsion from the union.

Note: Unions are allowed, under Section 503 of the LMRDA, to loan up to $2,000 to union members, including those holding office or employed by the union. As long as the credit card purchase does not exceed that limit, and as long as the officer “comes clean at once” and pays for his or her personal charges, promptly reimburses the union, or executes an IOU or loan agreement with the union, there probably will be no problem.

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