February 2, 1994
The controversial leader of a big Laborers
Union local, Marcelino (Matchy) Duarte, will not face a new election.
The federal Department of Labor Tuesday conceded
that it could not prove Duarte and other union officers received
outside help in their election.
It was a smashing victory for Duarte, 61.
The Labor Department had originally demanded that all 11 officers
of Local 652 stand for election again.
Now only two lesser officers must rerun the
June election, which ended in a brawl at the local's Santa Ana
offices between dissidents and Duarte supporters.
"I'm angry, but what can you do?"
said Crispin Perez, who ran against Duarte for the $107,000-a-year
job of business manager. "I'm out of words right now."
The local has helped hundreds of Mexican
immigrants move into the middle class with relatively unskilled
construction jobs as laborers on roadways and buildings.
It is a political and economic power in Orange
County's Latino community, where this fight for control of the
local is being closely watched.
Perez and other dissidents accused Duarte
of intimidating union members during the election or bribing them
with promises of jobs.
The Labor Department said it investigated
and rejected those allegations.
Instead, the department thought it could
prove two more specific allegations: that the union hadn't notified
perhaps as many as 150 members about the election and that Duarte's
supporters used the phones at a community center for the elderly
in Westminster run by Abrazar Inc. during the election -- but
never intended to pay the two resulting phone bills of more than
Had the Labor Department proved that Duarte's
supporters didn't intend to pay the bills, it could have forced
new elections for the local's 11 offices. But the lawyer handling
the case said the Labor Department -- after talking to Duarte's
lawyer -- concluded it couldn't prove the allegation it had made
in a lawsuit just three months ago.
"The union actually didn't pay one of
the phone bills until after the investigation started," said
Assistant U.S. Atty. John H. Lee. "But we would have had
a difficult time proving our case."
"Sour grapes," said the union's
lawyer, Julius Mel Reich. The candidates didn't pay the bill immediately,
he said, because it was misplaced.
As for the other allegation in the lawsuit,
the union agreed in settling the suit that it had not mailed ballots
to 98 members of the 4,000-member local.
The local agreed to hold elections for two
offices that the victors won by less than 98 votes -- third auditor
and vice president, both in the second tier of the union's hierarchy.
A federal judge must now approve the settlement.
Meanwhile, Perez and the other dissidents
have hired their own lawyer. The lawyer has asked to intervene
in the lawsuit and will probably try to block the settlement.
Lee, the government lawyer, said the Labor
Department had no choice but to concede defeat when it found it
couldn't prove the allegation about the phone bills.
"This settlement," he said, "is
something the Labor Department and the local can live with."