Union dissidents challenge their leaders.
Sam Goodman and Chris White are a part of a small group building
a union reform movement in Alaska
It was one of those cold nights when you
can't leave your car for more than a couple of hours without it
freezing up. More than a dozen members of three local unions were
gathered in a Fairbanks livingroom to discuss union reform.
The conversation veered erratically, from
Congressional inquiries about Alaska's unions to a combined federal
Labor Department, Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department
strike force investigation; from past efforts to oust local union
leaders to possible lawsuits and the limited role attorneys can
play on the long, hard road to changing local unions.
During a lull in the conversation, Laborer
Sam Goodman turned to the person next to him and asked, "what
are the problems in your union?
The reply, with a rueful smile: "How
much time do you have?"
Goodman, belly poking out of a work shirt
stretched tight but unable to contain his girth, said, "I've
got all night if necessary."
The 24-year-old union dissident, who has
charged that millions of dollars in Alaska union pension funds
are being loaned illegally to Alaska businessmen who are managing
those funds, was dead serious. Those who know the burly reformer
say he exists on coca cola and union reform; he would talk and
listen as long as necessary.
Somebody got up and donned a parka. It was
10 p.m. The meeting appeared to be breaking up. Goodman and his
new associate continued talking.
Ten minutes later, engine wanned again, the
parka-clad person entered the room, shed boots and coat and resumed
a place in the circle. Fueled by coffee and discussion of common
problems, the meeting had not yet run its course.
Eight months ago a similar meeting ended
early. This time it was different. New people were coming into
the group, organizer Chris White later said with quiet elation.
Fairbanks laborer White is secretary-treasurer
of Ruled Out of Order (ROOR), which White describes as a rank-and-file
union reform group of undisclosed size.
We never give Up," says White. "Our
leaders know that. We show up in Washington, D.C., on the floor
of the national convention. Maybe we don't win. but we always
get up and fight back. And every time we get up we come back harder,
because we're more sophisticated. We're learning all the time."
Union representatives have charged the dissidents
are trying to destroy their unions. White says ROOR's members....who
belong to the Culinary, Carpenters, Teamsters, Laborers and Postal
Workers Unions --- are all strong union supporters.
"We just want our leaders to represent
our interests and to deal with us fairly and openly," he
adds. "In the past they have not done so."
Goodman and White met several years ago when
White was handing out leaflets at the Laborers' hall urging fellow
members to request full disclosure of union finances from union
officials. White recalls that Goodman walked up to him and said.
"Why don t you run for business manager?"
White was scratching his head, mumbling he
didn't have the money, when Goodman said, 'I'll finance you from
Prudhoe Bay." It was pipeline boom time, jobs were plentiful,
and during the next year Goodman did just that. In 1978, with
$15,000 from Goodman at Prudhoe and $10,000 of his own pipeline
wages, White ran -unsuccessfully-for business manager of Local
Later in 1978 the Laborers joined with a
handful of dissidents from other Fairbanks unions to form the
These days the reform operation is strictly
low-budget. Last week, while ROOR members from five local unions
were planning to meet with federal strike force investigators
from San Francisco, White was out trying to round up $80 to file
a lawsuit against the Laborers Union, charging that Laborers'
Local 942 has collected approximately half a million dollars through
an illegal three per cent wage check-off instituted by the union
According to Laborers' 942 Business Manager
Joe Thomas. "the only problem is that people don't read the
constitution (of the union )." Thomas thought the union attorney
had answered White's questions, but White said the response from
the Union did not provide the information he had requested or
resolve the issues he had raised.
Thomas declined to go into the details, commenting
that, "I don't handle our business in the newspapers."
According to White, July I, 1978 union leaders
at the statewide Central District Council meeting replaced a $0.35/hour
dues checkoff, approved by union members two years earlier, with
the higher union assessment. White says he and other union members
never approved the new assessment by secret ballot, as required
by the 1959 Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act.
Based on average wages and current employment
figures, White believes the dues increase has probably netted
the union an additional half a million dollars since its institution.
White wants the exact figures, which he says the union is required
to provide under the same act. He also wants the excess accounted
for the returned to the workers who paid it.
One of ROOR's major concerns is the management
of union pension funds. White and Goodman believe that time they
spent with U.S. House and .Senate investigators in Washington
late last year has sent ripples through a sluggish federal bureaucracy.
"We documented apparent pension fund
abuses for Labor Department investigators almost a year ago,"
but nothing ever happened, White says. "Then we went to Washington,
some Congressmen fired off some letters. and now we're supposed
to be meeting with a strike force from IRS Labor and the Justice
White credits Goodman ;with much of the ROOR
pension research. 'After we lost the election in '78, Sam went
into hibernation hi a law library. He came out loaded for bear."
Among other things. Goodman found a provision
in the 1974 pension reform law the prohibits pension fund managers
from receiving pension loans from the fund. He also learned how
to use an IRS "bounty" form that provides a 10 per cent
finders fee on penalties assessed by the government.
With this knowledge in hand, Goodman and
ROOR began pressing union officials and banks for information
on pension fund loans. They discovered that the banks that manage
funds for Alaska unions had placed some investments with businessmen
who were on the banks own board of directors. As directors of
the bank, Goodman contends, those parties were responsible for
union funds they loaned out.
According to Goodman, the pension law defines
this kind of transaction as illegal self-dealing. He has presented
documentation to various government officials and filed bounty
claims with IRS, charging various Alaska businessmen with violations
of federal labor law.
The largest questioned transaction involves
Anchorage hotelman Bill Sheffield. Goodman says Sheffield received
$5.8 million in two union pension fund loans while he was a member
of the board of the National Bank of Alaska, which made the loan
on behalf of the unions. Goodman traced a complex path in which
one of the loans, totaling $4 million wound up financing Sheffield's
Sheffield told an Anchorage newspaper that,
"It's marginal if it's a problem or not.... The labor people
have been in our office and checked our records. In effect, they
have given US a clean bill of health."
Acting ROOR President Elder Lebert of Fairbanks
says flatly, "Those people . . . who are saying the Department
of Labor has given them a clean bill of health are lying. They
hammer hasn't dropped on them yet."
If the charges stand up, Goodman says. the
penalties could total $800,000 ... and ROOR will receive $80,000.
"Once the rank and file catches on to a few simple procedures,"
he says, 'it can fund its own reform effort while deterring further
ROOR also charges that the Laborers Union
made a $530,000 mortgage loan to Fairbanks contractor James Lundgren
while Lundgren was employing members of the union. According to
Goodman, that is also a violation of the pension reform law.
Union Business Manager Thomas says that to his knowledge the
Department of Labor has not determined transactions
like the Lundgren loan are prohibited by law. Moreover, he says,
he believes Lundgren's loan was made before the law was passed.
Government officials say they are looking
into Alaska union business affairs. but they decline to say what
they are finding or what action, if any, they are contemplating