DOL Guidance on Use of Government and Employer Resources

Although union funds may be used to pay for nomination and election notices and other expenses for conducting the election, federal law strictly prohibits the use of union and employer funds to promote the candidacy of any person in a union officer election. This prohibition was adopted to prevent a current officer from being able to use the union treasury to help finance an election campaign. It was also intended to prohibit an employer from being able to influence the outcome of a union election. Unfortunately, the use of union or employer funds is a relatively common problem in union officer elections. In many cases, however, the improper use is unintentional since the candidates, union officials, and employers simply do not know the extent of the restriction and that it applies to facilities, equipment, and supplies as well as cash.

A union or employer may not contribute money or anything of value (such as the use of facilities, equipment, or supplies) to promote the candidacy of any individual in a union officer election.

The restriction on the use of union funds applies to all moneys received by the union by way of dues, assessment, or similar levy.

The prohibition against the use of union and employer funds applies to any union and any employer, not just the union conducting the election or an employer of the union’s members. For example, it is improper for a candidate to have campaign literature duplicated free of charge on a copy machine at a small business owned by a relative of the candidate.

Any expenditure of union or employer funds on behalf of a candidate, even if the amount is small, is a violation of federal law.

The use of union/employer funds or facilities is a violation of federal law even if union officials or the employer do not know about or approve of the use.

The prohibition against the use of union and employer funds applies to direct expenditures from the union or employer as well as indirect expenditures including:

  • campaigning on time paid for by the union or employer
  • use of union/employer owned or leased equipment such as telephones, fax machines, and copy machines
  • use of union/employer supplies such as stamps, paper, and envelopes
  • use of union employees to prepare campaign literature while on union time
  • use of the union letterhead
  • use of union/employer property or facilities
  • printing articles which support or criticize an individual’s candidacy in a union newspaper or other publication
  • giving free services or special discounts to a candidate customer such as printing, photocopying, etc.

Certain uses of union and employer funds which do not support one person’s candidacy over another are acceptable, such as providing the use of equipment, facilities, or publications to all candidates on an equal basis after giving them notice of this opportunity.

Campaigning by union officials which is “incidental” to union business is not a violation of federal law. For example, any campaigning by union officials which occurs as a consequence of conducting legitimate union business, such as shaking hands with members while visiting work sites on official business, is permissible.