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U.S. union leaders well paid

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WASHINGTON — The leaders of America's labor unions are a well-paid bunch: four earned more than $400,000 last year, and another four had salaries above $300,000.

The two highest salaries, both well over $400,000, went to executives whose unions cater to workers in Hollywood's entertainment industry.

Overall, 140 unions reported $7.4 billion in receipts and $6.4 billion in assets in 2003, according to Labor Department data compiled by Political Money Line, a nonpartisan service that tracks campaign spending.

Total expenses weren't compiled, so it is difficult to gauge the financial health of organized labor as it heads into November's election. Union leaders are pledging record spending to mobilize their members to support John Kerry and congressional Democrats this fall.

The union official who earned the highest salary last year was John McLean, executive director of the Writers Guild of America-West, who was paid $445,461. The guild counted 7,601 members.

The chief executive of the Screen Actors Guild reported the largest salary increase. A.R. Pisano's base pay jumped 59 percent to $425,426 last year, the second-highest salary. His union reported 78,689 members.

The average annual salary for a union president in 2003 was $122,297. Twenty unions had not filed their financial reports for 2003. The Bush administration started releasing the reports online in 2002.

Unions currently are not required to report expenses for get-out-the-vote efforts and member communication activities. The forms they file with the Labor Department list general spending categories that lump together much of those costs.

Starting Thursday, however, unions with annual receipts of $250,000 or more will have to file their next reports electronically, using a new, detailed form. Reports are due 90 days after a union's budget year ends.

Unions will have to detail transactions of more than $5,000 for politics, gifts, administration, member representation activities and benefits. For the first time, larger unions also will be required to disclose finances of related trusts.

Unions sued the department to block the new forms but lost. They claimed the requirements were burdensome, and the release of detailed finances would give an advantage to companies fighting unionization attempts.

The Bush administration says current reporting requirements do not tell rank-and-file union members clearly how their dues are spent.

Last year, union membership fell by 369,000 to 15.8 million, or 12.9 percent of the work force.

The Service Employees International Union had the largest membership increase, adding 138,805 to its rolls. The American Postal Workers Union reported the largest drop in members, down 53,754. The largest union was the National Education Association, with almost 2.7 million members.