Union Democracy Review
July, 1999
no. 125

Published by the Association for Union Democracy

Story in Laborers' Hiring Halls?

Back in 1996, the Laborers adopted a model set of job referral rules that presumably required locals to assign jobs "in a fair and equitable manner." The rules, as printed on paper, could actually impose a fair hiring system, a spectacular achievement in the construction trades, if they were enforced. Are they really enforced or are they just a public relations gimmick? That's the overwhelming question.

In his report in the March/April issue of The Laborer, General Executive Board Attorney Robert Luskin is quite satisfied. He writes, "Results of Compliance Reviews: At the direction of the GEB Attorney, the Regional Offices have conducted on-site reviews assessing the compliance of each LIUNA hiring hall with the Amended Job Referral Rules. The results show that the overwhelming majority of local unions are in substantial compliance, with minor administrative discrepancies." Sounds lovely, even too good to be true. We remain skeptical because his report does not square with all the facts.

How has he arrived at his rosy conclusion? His report seems obviously based not upon any investigation independent of the union power structure but upon the union's own Regional Office reviews. Would he expect officials to report that they permit wholesale violation of rules which are really imposed upon them because of pressure from government monitors? What information, if any, has Mr. Luskin received, not from union officials, but from rank and file members?

In April, Nick Brkich wrote about the situation in his California Local 300, "The Laborers that don't sympathize with the business manager's politics are kept on the blacklist and those few who dare to publicly manifest themselves against the arbitrariness of our representatives are punished, threatened, and intimidated..."

What he writes squares with what other Laborers have experienced: Back in 1995,almost four years ago,Inspector General Douglas Gow reported, "By far the most frequent complaint we receive concerns inequity in the job referral process." [Laborer,Nov/Dec]

He had already received almost 100 hiring hall complaints. We must assume that there have been hundreds of others by now. What has happened to those complaints? How were they resolved? How many are still pending?

Gow writes in March/April that he intends to provide "the tools that will allow disclosure to the membership concerning the finances, job dispatching, and membership record handling of their local unions and district councils." He could begin by reporting on all those complaints.

It would be instructive to learn from members,not officials, if they are referred to jobs without discrimination or favoritism; if their officers are demanding exclusive hiring hall provisions in their contracts; if the rules are "conspicuously posted"; if copies are available to members; if referral records are accurately maintained and available for inspection. Luskin's undocumented and unsubstantiated blanket claim of "substantial compliance" tells us nothing except that he and LIUNA officials are satisfied, self-satisfied.

In other respects Gow's report on "Statistical accomplishments to March 1,1999" indicates progress: 191 individuals "removed" for criminal or ethical violations; 59 forced to resign; 20 trusteeships imposed; 41 officers removed in 15 "problem" locals and districts; $625,000 recovered for the union.

But the future fate of decency and democracy in this construction union, like all others, depends upon the right of members to work in dignity, under fair rules, without fear or favor. On that subject, LIUNA members have learned little from the union monitors.

What's the real story in Laborers' hiring halls?

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