A Republican-led committee of the U.S. Congress
is currently holding hearings on the subject "Impediments
to Union Democracy." Oddly, the Democratic members of this
subcommittee seem less interested in the topic. The Subcommittee
on Employer-Employee Relations of the House Committee on Education
and the Workforce has taken testimony from several union members
who say their unions have failed to act democratically.
The parade of witnesses started with Clyde
Summers, a Yale professor who helped author the Landrum-Griffin
Act, the law that contains the Worker's Bill of Rights.
Other who testified included Bill Rugh of
the Philadelphia Carpenters for Democracy in Unions, Thom Donnelly
of Pile Driver Pride, Steve Manos of Laborers for Justice and
Democracy, and Skip Patterson of the National Transient Lodge
of the Boilermakers Union.
Also testifying was Michael Bearse, General
Counsel of the Laborers Union. Bearse was the only witness invited
by the Democratic Party members of the subcommittee. His testimony,
which differed from that of the other witnesses, indicated that
democracy was alive and well in the Laborers Union. (for more
on Michael Bearse, ( see the Hardhat interview)
Shortly following his appearance before the
subcommittee, Steve Manos, a Laborers Union member, felt the sting
of his local union chief's retaliation.
Manos is the subject of a civil defamation
law suit by his local union's Business Manager, Charles LeConche.
After Manos testified, the suit was amended to include a reference
to what Manos told Congress.
Harris Fawell, Republican of Illinois and
chairman of the Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee, wrote
to Laborers Union President Arthur Coia protesting the treatment
The letter said, in part, "the Subcommittee
will not tolerate any retaliation against Mr. Manos or any other
witness who testifies before Congress and the Subcommittee will
take every step necessary and possible to protect these witnesses
should there be any hint of retaliation. I enlist you, other
officials and rank-and-file members of the union to join in ensuring
union democracy and an environment free from retaliation. I trust
that you understand the Subcommittee's position on this matter
and that no such action will be taken against any present or future
witness." Copies of this letter were also sent to Leconche,
to U.S. Attorney-General Janet Reno and to LIUNA General Executive
Board Attorney Robert Luskin.
Also receiving a letter from Fawell was Charles
Jones, president of the Boilermakers Union, after Skip Patterson
reported to the Subcommittee that his testimony prompted several
threatening phone calls.
The Subcommittee's union democracy hearings
are reviewing the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act
of 1959, also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act after its original
sponsors in Congress. The act protects the rights of union members
to vote at meetings, to express any arguments or opinions, and
to voice views on union candidates and union business. The act
is administered by the Department of Labor.
The Subcommittee will determine whether Landrum-Griffin should be strengthened or more strongly enforced. Although many unionists worry that a Republican-led Congress is not the safest place to tinker with the only law on the federal books that protects democratic rights for union members, it should be remembered that the original 1959 act was written and enacted by a Republican Congress.
The June 4 chat at LIUNA's Washington, D.C.
headquarters, also attended by media-relations staffers Linda
Fisher and David Roscow, covered a wide range of topics. Curiously,
Hard Hat was not allowed to tape record the interview. Hope we
got it all right.
Attorney Bearse started off by telling us
he expects LIUNA General President Arthur Coia to be completely
exonerated on the charges brought against him by General Executive
Board Attorney Robert Luskin, the union's reform prosecutor. He
did not know when the case would be concluded.
Bearse told us that LIUNA "members are
fairly satisfied" with the reform effort so far. For example,
the Mason Tenders District Council in New York City, a long-time
bastion of corrupt practices and organized crime, "has been substantially corrected."
There has been concern among members and
observers that LIUNA might stop the flow of union money to the
investigator's and prosecutor's offices. The unique agreement
signed in February 1995 places the entire financial burden of
reform squarely on the union, in contrast to the Teamsters Union
clean-up, which is partly funded by the U.S. government. Bearse
told Hard Hat that the reform effort would continue
to be "fully funded."
He also said that LIUNA leaders 3haven1t and wouldn1t2 stop the funding during the life of the agreement between LIUNA and the Justice Department, which runs until February 1999.
Concerning the reform of hiring hall procedures, while there might still be some hiring hall abuse in a "minority of cases," Bearse said, "I don't think we're looking for more changes."
Following the investigation and prosecution
of LIUNA headquarters staffer Dennis Martire on charges he abused
union travel expenses, there was concern by some union employees
that those who cooperated with Inspector-General Douglas Gow were
singled out for retaliation.
Bearse said the Ethics and Disciplinary Practices
rules adopted by the union as part of its clean-up campaign were
adequate to protect union members and employees who cooperated
with the Inspector-General's investigations. He felt there was
"no need for more" whistle blower protection, and that
the union "went the extra mile" to protect cooperating
staffers at LIUNA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
International Hearing Officer Peter Vaira
found Martire innocent, but Appellate Officer Neil Eggleston
reversed that decision, and Martire repaid about $400 in travel
expenses. Bearse said he himself had not made any travel reimbursements,
nor had there been any complaints lodged against him personally.
Concerning Election Officer Stephen Goldberg
and why several of his recommendations for election reform were
not adopted by LIUNA, Bearse said that some of the recommendations
were "not appropriate." Bearse indicated that Goldberg
had said he would not be back to supervise the Laborers election
of General Executive Board officers in 2001. There is no binding agreement in place as to who will or will
not be the Election Officer at that time. Bearse told us he thought
the Laborers 1996 convention in Las Vegas was "fair and democratic."
The District Council of Chicago has gone
to federal court in a battle against the trusteeship imposed by
the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) after
incriminating testimony linked the council to the Chicago Mob.
Following two break-ins, the headquarters'
locks were changed and a 24-hour security guard was posted after
Chicago labor lawyer Robert Bloch was named trustee. Bloch and
four assistants are running the council's daily affairs.
Insiders expected the most daunting task
(conducting collective bargaining negotiations with private contractors
and the City of Chicago for several expiring contracts) would
be a true test of Bloch's competence. According to the Washington
Post, Bloch managed to obtain a 35-percent increase for workers.
The trusteeship came on the heels of a June
13, 1997 complaint filed by General Executive Board Attorney Robert
Luskin as part of a wide-ranging clean-up of LIUNA (see the last
seven issues of Hard Hat). Forty-five former Federal Bureau of
Investigation agents, law enforcement officials, union officers, laborers and mob turncoats
from the Chicago Mob (or Outfit) testified over 19 days from July
16 to October 23 last year.
According to a 91-page order issued by LIUNA's
General Executive Board, the trusteeship will "correct corruption
and eradicate the influence of organized crime from the District
Council; restore democratic procedures; correct financial malpractice;
and carry out LIUNA's legitimate objects."
Since the February take-over, at least 15
Chicago District Council officers and employees have been ousted
from their positions, including District President Bruno Caruso,
Vice President John Matassa, Secretary-Treasurer Joseph Lombardo,
Jr., and District Council Sergeant-at-Arms Leo Caruso. Key overseers of the funds affiliated with the
district council and its locals (with assets totaling more than
$1 billion) have been fired. Local 225, led by Business Manager
John Galiotto, has also been swept into a trusteeship.
The stated goal of the trusteeship is to
restore democratic procedures in the district council, where "not
a single contested election of officers" was held from 1979
The Chicago District Council represents 19,000
union members and 21 local unions. District council supporters,
on the other hand, say the take-over is part of an on-going rivalry
between LIUNA President Arthur A. Coia (himself named as a Mob
insider by the Department of Justice) and Caruso, who ran against Coia for the International presidency.
The hearing record contains 4,433 pages of
transcript and approximately 250 items of evidence offered by
the GEB Attorney and the district council.
Stanley Kravit, a union arbitrator in Chicago
and Caruso1s 1996 campaign manager, told Hard Hat that the district
council is arguing against technicalities that defined the process
and the way the hearings were handled. Kravit also said the testimony
permitted in the hearings (much of it based on information supplied
to the FBI by 11 unnamed confidential informants) was third-party
hearsay that should not be admissible in any legal proceeding.
The council also believes that Independent Hearing Officer Peter
Vaira, who served on the Presidential Commission on Organized
Crime in the 1980s, was prejudicial and should not have heard
"Nobody showed there was any financial
misconduct," Kravit complained. Chicago LIUNA members "were
investigated by law enforcement for 20 years and nothing happened,"
Kravit said. "So they say 20 years ago (Caruso) rode in a
car with someone who got into trouble for something . . . he should
lose his job over that?"
The hearings and takeover have caused the district's annual operating budget to double or triple, according to Kravit.
The district council's challenges are being
heard in the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division,
of the United States District Court.
Attorney Dwight Bostwick, who is aiding the
federal government in its LIUNA clean-up, said LIUNA has been
granted a preliminary injunction for the trusteeship. District
Judge James B. Moran is expected to rule on the final injunction
by July. "The issues they1re raising are extremely weak in
federal district court," Bostwick told Hard Hat, calling
undemocratic practices "the more shattering concept"
of the council's problems. Kravit said the union will appeal to
higher courts, until a "fair-minded" judge can review
The next step in the Chicago "clean-up" could be charges of Barred Conduct levied on certain individuals for violating LIUNA's Ethics and Disciplinary Procedures, but Bostwick did not specify who or if anyone would be charged.
New York City's Hard Hat News
has produced another killer issue. This 12-page magazine is smart,
cheap and independent. Here is another story we lifted from the
By Bob Fitch
The indictment of Dennis "B-Boy"
McCall, Daniel "Tybourne" Hunter, Eric "Unique"
Mulder and James "J.T." Sims. for extortion and conspiracy
confirmed some old suspicions. It wasn't black guys from the ghetto
who were actually running two of New York City's most notorious
"coalitions" - Brooklyn Fight Back (BFB) and Black and
Latino Economic Survival (BLES). It was two white guys from suburban
Craig and Gregory DePalma, who were indicted
separately, were soldiers in a Gambino crime family "crew"
that specialized in labor racketeering. They supervised the coalitions.
Press treatment of the 116-page federal indictment
handed down by U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White mostly overlooked how
the DePalma brothers ran Gambino Boss John Gotti Jr.'s civil rights
racket. It was the DePalmas' job to tell BFB and BLES which construction
sites the coalitions would stop at to unload their threatening
crews of unemployed minority workers armed with pipes and hammers,
demanding jobs - and which sites they would drive by. The DePalma
brothers divided up the territories between the coalitions and
kept a "peace" marked by at least a couple of murders
a year. In return, the coalitions paid them "tribute."
It's been quite a while since anyone confused
the coalitions, who have been in operation since the late 1970s,
with the civil rights movement. A decade ago, the New York State
Organized Crime Task Force described Black Economic Survival as
"operating under the transparent disguise of a civil rights
group." How could they tell? For one thing, the Report pointed
out, if you paid them off, "as part of the typical deal,
Black Economic Survival agrees to keep other minority workers
and groups from seeking employment at the site." For another,
the coalitions didn't discriminate among contractors with respect
to race: Black contractors were as likely to get shaken down as
Whatever the Color, the Con Stays the
While it may have been "transparent,"
the civil rights disguise was still worth something. The question
is, to whom? What if white guys showed up on construction sites,
wielding pipes and hammers, demanding that they be put to work
or hired as "coalition coordinators"?
Well, white guys do shaked down contractors
for jobs all the time. They make their demands as ordinary labor
racketeers. Take Harry Gross, a Teamsters Local 282 business agent.
According to the Report, Gross insisted the general contractor
on the 63rd Street tunnel hire a non-working Teamster foreman
whose duties consisted entirely of serving as Gross' chauffeur.
We know since "the Bull" sang his
turncoat song (see "Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story
of Life in the Mafia," by Peter Maas, $6.99 from Harper
Collins. To be reviewed in the next issue of Hard Hat Magazine)
that the same folks who put the bite into Gross' words backed
up the BLES and BFB - the Gambinos. We know , too, that contractors
put up with the mob's extortion in large part because they get
something back - they might be allowed to shade the contract,
or sneak non-union labor onto the site, or skip pension and welfare
What do contractors get about of hiring a
black non-working coalition coordinator? To find out, Hard Hat
News asked Jim Haughton, founder of Harlem Fight Back (HFB) and
a former aide to A. Philip Randolph, President of the Brotherhood
of Sleeping Car Porters (AFL-CIO). In the late 1960s and early
1970s, HFB first dramatized the issue of black and latino exclusion
from the trades with demonstrations on construction sites I Harlem.
No one has ever charged Haughton with receiving a payment from
a contractor. He stayed honest, while a former member of HFB,
Kelly Harrison, left to found BFB.
"Guys like Harrison realized they could
be making millions by making threats and taking bribes,"
says Haughton. "Suddenly there were dozens of black and latino
groups all fighting and killing each other. White guys are laughing,
'Let the niggers kill each other.' Nothing was done to stop it.
No one seemed to want to expose it. What they were doing was discrediting
the honest fight for jobs. People could say, 'All these people
were corrupt.' Whit trade unionists didn't have to make distinctions
The building trades and the developers work
together," Haughton charges. "They're willing to pay
good money to the coalitions to perpetuate racial exclusion. And
What's the response of the city?" When have you ever heard
the Mayor - any Mayor, Dinkins or Giuliani - say, much less do,
anything about racial discrimination in the trades?"
What if Haughton is right? If the Gambinos really are performing an important service for the construction industry by discrediting genuine civil rights, what's likely to be the practical outcome of the upcoming trials of BFB and BLES leaders and their Gambino handlers? Even assuming convictions on all charges, not a lot. Unless you count creating new opportunities for the younger generation of labor racketeers of all races.
The Fall 1998 Hard Hat will contain a report
on the Laborers Union, its agreement with the U.S. Department
of Justice, and the embattled union's prospects for democracy
and reform. END
I read with dismay a note to the Laborers
Reform Update which asks whether the original Agreement between
LIUNA and the Justice Department was politically influenced by
financial contributions from the Laborers to the Clinton Administration.
You suggest that "until it is investigated, this question
cannot be laid to rest."
It's that deja vu all over again. As I know
you will recall if you thought about it for one second, this precise
question was the subject of a five month investigation, involving
thousands of documents and hundreds of interviews and depositions,
followed by three days of public hearings in July, 1996, before the Crime Subcommittee
of the House Judiciary Committee.
An exhaustive report issued by the Subcommittee found no evidence to suggest that agreement between LIUNA and the United States was the subject of any political influence. As I am sure you don1t need to be reminded, the House Judiciary Committee, like every other committee of the House, is controlled by a Republican majority, which certainly had no partisan interest in covering up anything.
I don't think you do anyone a service by
repeating nonsense like this as though someone just discovered
Additionally, although you are correct that
the most recent extension of the agreement between the Laborers
and the government expires January 31, 1999, there is no basis
for concern that the next election for international officers,
in 2001, will be conducted without supervision. Both LIUNA and
the government are committed to the selection of a mutually acceptable election officer to oversee the
next election and to assure that it is conducted in a free, fair
and democratic manner.
Please do not treat this letter as acquiescence
in any of the other charges that are made: for example, that the
trusteeship of the Chicago District Council was intended as retaliation
for Mr. Caruso's candidacy. As you also know, it has been the policy of the GEB Attorney
from the beginning not to comment publicly on pending matters.
However, the opinion of the Independent Hearing
Officer on the Chicago trusteeship, which has been made public,
should speak for itself.
Robert D. Luskin
LIUNA GEB Attorney
P.S. Is it time for me to renew my subscription?
Editor responds: We are preparing a Special
Report on the Laborers Union for our next edition (Fall 1998).
An overview of the agreement between LIUNA and the U.S. government
will be part of that report, as well as an assessment of the progress
of the reform effort.
If Congressional investigations were reliably "exhaustive," campaign finance reform would be the law of the land, Oliver North would be in prison, and U.S. Presidents from both parties would have been impeached by now. Congress, like any other branch of government, needs to be prodded into action occassionally . . . and a cattle prod is sometimes the right tool for the job.
And, yes, now is always a good time to renew
your subscription to Hard Hat.
My father was brutually assaulted by 30 men
at a LIUNA membership meeting after he raised many questions and
concerns about the operations of LIUNA.
My father is 47 years old and is not expected
to live much longer because of the head injuries he sustained
from this assault.
Yesterday, May 26, 1998 my brother (not a
LIUNA member) was driving my father's car when Mr. Frank Guerette,
Recording Secretary at LIUNA Local 1089, attempted to run him
off the road. When Mr. Guerette realized it was my brother, not
my father, he panicked and drove away.
Everytime my father leaves for a Union meeting
my family fears he isn't going to be able to come back. I fear
for my family and other members' families as this is only a small
sample of what is occuring in Sarnia, Ontario LIUNA Local 1089.
LIUNA is International and Canadian members
are governed by the LIUNA Ethics and Disciplinary Procedures Code;
this is an international problem, therefore, I request that you
ignore the border as LIUNA is without a border.
I would sincerely appreciate an opportunity
to testify before the sub-committee and believe that I have pertinent
information to provide.