Herbert Hill is professor of industriol relations and Afro-American studies at the University of Wisconsin. He is the former Notional Labor Director of the N.A.A.C.P. and author of Black Labor and the American Legal System (The Bureau of National Affairs Inc.).

More than twenty years after its enactment, the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, better known as the Landrum-Griffin Law, has failed in its purpose of eliminating corruption in organized labor. Indeed, there is reason to believe that corruption in its various forms is even more prevalent today than when the law was passed. Furthermore, the evidence indicates that criminal forces have in fact extended their control of labor unions and that their influence reaches into the highest echelons of leadership within organized labor.

Mob infiltration of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters is notorious; the union's newly elected president, Roy Williams, was called an "organized crime mole" in a report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. And where mob control is absent, some labor leaders use their positions to profit from improper business dealings. Even Lane Kirkland, the statesmanlike president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., has been implicated in such practices. The purge of radicals from the unions in the late 1940s brought in a new generation of conservative union leaders who are not averse to parlaying mob ties and a cozy relationship with business into profitable sidelines.

Prodded by union dissidents, Congressional committees and the media, law-enforcement agencies have been slowly turning their attention to crookedness within organized labor. In late 1978, six high-ranking officials of the United Paperworkers International Union, including its president, Joseph Tonelli, who was a member of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. executive council, pleaded guilty to embezzlement of union funds and obstruction of justice. Tonelli, who was described by one law-enforcement official as "Carlo Gambino's emissary to the A.F.L.-C.I.0 executive council," was convicted and served a prison term.

Since 1976, many other union leaders have been convicted of crimes, including Federal charges of racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, illegal labor payments, tax evasion and perjury. Among these were high-ranking officials of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen, Laborers' International Union of North America, Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union, International Longshoremen's Association and, above all, the Teamsters' Union. A Justice Department memorandum concludes, "Although there have been numerous prosecutions of high-ranking Teamster officials (e.g., William Presser, Allen Dorfman and Jimmy Hoffa), the domination of the Union by organized crime has gone unchecked."

The extent of labor corruption and the widespread control of unions by organized crime was summarized in a report of the Justice Department:

A majority of the locals in most major cities of the United States in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), Hotel and Restaurant Employees (HRE), Laborers' International Union of North America (Laborers), and International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) unions are completely dominated by organized crime. The officials of these unions are firmly entrenched; there is little hope of removing them by a free election process. Convictions for misconduct have been sparse and when one corrupt official is removed another soon takes his place.... There are many other unions which are hoodlum infiltrated, such as the Laundry Workers and the Operating Engineers.

The report ticks off the situation in major cities. "Organized crime has a substantial foothold into the labor unions in the New York City area.... Over one hundred unions [have] members of organized crime or their associates in positions of power." In Cleveland, the underworld not only controls many local unions but also the A.F.L.-C.l.O.'s Cleveland Federation of Labor. In Chicago, "syndicate influence is not only heavily concentrated but disciplined.

The control comes directly from the top of the Chicago organization. The rosters of these locals are littered with the names of men whose job it is to serve the syndicate as enforcers and muscle men. The collective bargaining agreements, health and life insurance contracts and investment of union funds are negotiated by men who have as their primary aim the protecting of syndicate business interests and lining their own pockets." This pattern is repeated in other cities across the country.

The most important source of illegal gain is union pension and welfare funds. Court records and investigative reports by law-enforcement agencies reveal systematic looting of union funds, which by 1990 will have an estimated worth of approximately $3 trillion. The plundering of union pension and welfare funds is undoubtedly one of the most sordid chapters in the history of American labor unions. Many unions that represent seasonal or transitory workers accumulate vast sums in a variety of welfare funds which will never be collected. In other industries, thousands of union members will never receive their pensions because of complex technical rules and regulations that are not explained to the members. Labor union welfare and pension funds have become the underworld's bank, and the failure of government agencies to enforce the law has resulted in the widespread corruption of major sections of organized labor.

Because of repeated scandals and criminal convictions involving the leadership of the Teamsters' Union, especially the looting of the multibillion-dollar pension funds by the underworld, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations began oversight hearings last August on the Department of Labor's investigation of the Teamsters' Central States Pension Fund. The Secretary of Labor has the statutory obligation to enforce the reporting, financial disclosure and fiduciary responsibility provisions of the Landrum-Griffin Act which protect unions from corrupt elements, as well as those that require internal union democracy. How well the department has lived up to this obligation was revealed most recently in a report made last year by the General Accounting Office and the Senate Investigations Subcommittee on Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall's performance in office under the Carter Administration.

Comptroller General Elmer Stasts testified before the subcommittee that although the Department of Labor had spent $5.4 million over a five-year period to investigate the Central States Pension Fund, its work was characterized by "significant shortcomings and left numerous problems unresolved." The Attorney General informed the subcommittee that he first learned of the Labor Department's civil lawsuit against the trustees of the fund only hours before it was filed. The Justice Department was "concerned that the Labor Department had not vigorously pursued critical avenues of potential responsibilities over the Fund's management." A Department of Justice memo notes that the Secretary of Labor failed "to refer information to us which indicates potential civil as well as criminal misconduct.... "

Marshall, who has had an extraordinarily close personal and professional relationship with the leaders of organized labor, chose to ignore certain criminal statutes which could have been used against the predators who had been raiding the Teamster pension funds over a period of many years. He could have initiated proceedings under the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, for example, asking the courts to protect the pension funds through injunctions and criminal forfeiture, which could also have resulted in triple damages and other deterrent penalties. He could have sought criminal convictions and sent the guilty parties to Federal prison.

Instead, Marshall negotiated a dubious settlement which ignored criminal intent. The Department of Labor did not issue the subpoenas necessary for an adequate investigation, kept the entire matter away from its own skilled criminal investigators and terminated the investigation before it was completed. In sum, Marshall failed to protect the interests of rank-and-file union members, as he pledged he would during his confirmation hearings. Organized crime remains in control of the Teamsters' Central States Pension Fund.

While Marshall's record was dismal, in all fairness to him it should be noted that every Secretary of Labor since 1959-both Republican and Democrat-has acted on the assumption that the department functions on behalf of its primary constituency, the various union bureaucracies, and not in the interest of rank-and-file workers-even though the Secretary of Labor is the public officer charged by law with enforcing the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959.

The experience of Michael Moroney and Stephen Smith is illustrative of the way that labor union officials are able to prevent the D.O.L. from rooting out corrupt practices. Moroney and Smith were both highly skilled investigators on the staff of the Labor Department. In 1976 they were assigned to the Organized Crime Strike Force in New York City, consisting of Federal and local agencies under the coordination of the Department of Justice. They had an extraordinarily successful record; seventeen convictions of corrupt union officials-one of the best records in the department.

Early in 1979, Moroney and Smith became increasingly alarmed about the course of events within the Labor Department. Marshall had appointed Francis X. Burkhardt, a former research director for the Painters Union, an organization with a long history of corruption, as Assistant Secretary of Labor with responsibility for eliminating racketeering in organized labor. (Burkhardt and his four immediate predecessors as Assistant Secretary were all taken from the ranks of labor union bureaucrats.) But instead of conducting a vigorous investigation, Burkhardt blunted the department's effectiveness by frequently transferring investigators, reassigning them to routine procedures and failing to fill vacant positions on the investigative staff. Burkhardt also informed the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that the Labor Department intended to limit its future participation in the Organized Crime Strike Force program.

After filing several protests with his superiors, Moroney wrote to President Carter explaining the rapidly deteriorating situation. Moroney's letter was turned over to Marshall's office for investigation and soon thereafter Moroney was removed from the Organized Crime Strike Force and reassigned to routine duties. Stephen Smith met the same fate. Thomas Puccio, the Justice Department Attorney in charge of the strike force, protested their removal and argued that he needed their expertise and dedication. Moroney and Smith, however, were forbidden to work with any strike force. Both resigned from the Department of Labor not long after the incident.

Moroney and Smith's experience was not unique. In 1975 Joseph Kissane, an accountant in the New York Regional Office of the Labor-Management Services Administration, was suspended because he conducted "unauthorized investigations" into suspected violations of the law by the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Over a period of years, Kissane had become interested in this union because he had found irregularities in the reporting and disclosure statements made by the l.L.G.W.U. These included the granting of illegal loans to union officers, failure to report a corporate subsidiary and repeated errors and omissions in the financial reports filed by the union as required by law.

Kissane submitted several communications to his superiors suggesting audit reviews of the union's financial records and finally recommended prosecution because the I.L.G.W.U had abrogated an agreement it had entered into with the Solicitor of Labor to comply with the law. On several occassions Kissane received direct orders to stop probing the I.L.G.W.U., but persisted. Eventually, Kissane was suspended, and after several appeals, resigned. He is now employed by the Suffolk County, New York, District Attorney's Office, investigating sewage construction contracts.

The inglorious career of Kissane's superior, Benjamin Naumoff, New York Regional Administrator of the Labor Management Services Administration, deserves mention. In 1976, the Organized Crime Strike Force was conducting an investigation into the activities of Local 805 of the Teamsters' Union in New York City, headed by Abe Gordon. An audit revealed that Gordon, well known to law enforcement agencies because of his longtime involvement with the underworld, was "buying good will from government officials."

Through an investigation of Abraham Weiss Associates, a public relations company that represented many corrupt unions with close Mafia ties, the trail led to Ben Naumoff. Investigators found that Naumoff had accepted gifts from several labor unions and expense-paid trips to union conventions in California and other distant places. After his vouchers were subpoenaed, the government found that Naumoff had engaged in "substantial" double billing-charging the Department of Labor for travel and other expenses that had already been paid for by labor unions through Weiss.

On at least two occasions, grand juries considered indicting Naumoff. The first time was after an investigation revealed the close connection between him and labor leaders suspected of corrupt practices. The second rose out of his fraudulent expense accounts. But the U.S. Attorney dropped the case and, after suffering a heart attack in the office of Teamster official Gordon, Naumoff was permitted to retire.

The domination of the department by the labor bureaucracy is the prime cause of its poor record in fighting corruption. In an appearance before the Senate Permanent investigations Subcommittee, Peter Vaira, formerly U.S. attorney in charge of the Organized Crime Strike Force in Chicago and now U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia, testified:

There are some investigators who have attempted to do a good job, but they have been severely restricted and unrewarded by their agency.... The D.O.L. has no method of keeping track of the current corruption in the labor unions of Chicago.... Moreover, the compliance officers have been given such restrictive operating instructions that it is impossible for them to conduct a thorough investigation.

Vaira concluded his remarks with a story that put the Labor Department's enforcement operations in a more sinister light:

In a recent investigation, an employer complained to the D.O.L. that he was being forced to employ extra, unneeded manpower under threat of violence. The D.O.L. closed the investigation by informing the union in writing about the employer's allegation. The letter to the union named the particular employer. Several weeks later, the employer's place of business was bombed.

With Marshall's departure in 1980, his subordinates quickly flew off to various nesting places within the labor establishment. Francis Burkhardt returned to the Painters Union; another Assistant Secretary, Donald Elisburg,joined the law firm of Connerton and Bernstein, which represents the Laborers' International and other unions; Frank Greer, Marshall's executive assistant, is working for the Kamber Group, a Washington public relations firm serving labor leaders (Victor Kamber was formerly assistant to the director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. Building Trades Department), and Ray Marshall, through both the Kamber Group and the Labor Policy Institute, which was created by the federation's Industrial Union Department, is a paid consultant to several groups of A.F.L.-C.I.O. affiliates.

There is no reason to anticipate that the Department of Labor will perform any differently under the Reagan Administration. The notorious Jackie Presser of the Teamsters' Union, which endorsed Reagan, was prominent on the Administration's labor transition team, and the new Secretary of Labor is Raymond Donovan, a construction industry executive. According to A.H. Raskin, the former New York Times labor correspondent, "Donovan comes out of that whole swamp of the New Jersey construction industry. It has been an absolute morass of collusion, payoffs and under-the-table deals. So to think that Donovan is going to come in and say, 'Let's get real enforcement of the Landrum-Griffin Act.' . . . Well, I don't think so." [See Samuel Dillon, "Something Rotten in New Jersey," The Nation, February 28.]

Enforcement is crucial, however, for labor has shown little inclination to put its own house in order. After the merger between the A.F.L. and the C.l.O. in 1955, the united labor organization adopted an Ethical Practices Code and established an Ethical Practices Committee. It was not, however, until the McClellan Committee's dramatic and highly publicized revelations of union corruption in 1957 that the federation was forced to move beyond pious declarations.

With the expulsion of the Teamsters from the A.F.L.-C.I.O. at the latter's convention in December 1957, and the expulsion of the International Longshoremen's Association and the Bakery and Confectionary Workers' Union, the federation proclaimed that it would not tolerate dishonest unions, and its president, George Meany, thundered away against those who were debasing "the House of Labor." But this commitment had a very short life. After a single burst of energy, the Ethical Practices Committee fell into a comatose state and quickly expired. Its last meeting of record was in December 1959.

As for the Teamsters, their redemption was eventually arranged. Soon after Lane Kirkland succeeded Meany as president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. in 1980, he invited the Teamsters' Union to rejoin the federation. There was no demand that it purge itself of underworld control, nor was the question of whether the Teamsters were in technical compliance with the federation's code ever raised. For more than twenty years, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. had taken no action, even of a symbolic nature, against the racketeering elements in its own ranks; now it was inviting into affiliation the union that had been repeatedly exposed as the most corrupt labor organization in the country and had previously been expelled from the federation because it was gangster-ridden. So much for the A.F.L.-C.l.O.'s anticorruption policy.

Corruption within labor unions is not limited to the depredations of organized-crime syndicates. In 1975, not long after Sol (Chick) Chaikin succeeded David Dubinsky as president of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, garment manufacturers, many of whom had contracts with the I.L.G.W.U., found that it would be good business to purchase their dress linings from Robert Evan Inc. and its subsidiary, D.C. Linings, which, it happened, were owned by two sons of president Chaikin. I.L.G.W.U. found it desirable to use the legal services of president Chaikin's other son and his wife, both lawyers, and employers end affiliated local unions found it convenient to buy their,greeting cards in bulk quantities from Mrs. Chaikin, wife of the president, who was in that business.

Labor leaders' predilection for treating "their" unions like a family business extends to the A.F.L.-C.I.O. itself. Documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. District Court in Rochester reveal that Lane Kirkland was not averse to using his high position in organized labor to make a quick and easy buck when he was secretary-treasurer of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. during the 1970s. In October 1974, a Federal grand jury in Rochester began an investigation into the Stirling Homex Corporation scandal which involved seven of officials of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (A.F.L.-C.I.O.) and Lane Kirkland.

The Stirling Homex Corporation planned to manufacture and install modular housing units across the nation. The main obstacle to the large profits the proprietors of this enterprise were anticipating was the Carpenters Union, the union with primary jurisdiction, which had a longstanding and firm policy, as did other A.F.L.-C.I.O. construction unions, of refusing to install prefabricated units. With almost miraculous suddenness, the Carpenters Union reversed its well-known and well-enforced position-not long after seven officials of the union received company stock with a total value of $200,000.

An investigative memorandum of the Securities and Exchange Commission describes the transaction in fuller detail:

In early March 1970, at about the time of the initial Stirling Homex public offering, David Stirling, Jr. and Yanowitch arranged for certain officials of the Carpenters Union and a senior officer of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. who had introduced Stirling Homex and [Theodore] Kheel to the Carpenters Union, to purchase 6,500 shares of the securities of Stirling Homex.... In order to pay for these purchases in March 1970, David Stirling Jr. requested that Charles Marshall, then Senior Vice President of Central Trust Bank ("Central Trust") in Rochester, New York, lend over $200,000 to these seven Carpenters Union officials and Kirkland in order to help them purchase the stock. Even though these individuals were strangers to Central Bank the loans were made based on the credit worthiness of David Stirling. The loans to these individuals varied in amounts from $13,000 to $60,000....... It appears likely that several indictments will be forthcoming as a result of this investigation.

Federal law prohibits employers from making payments or giving loans to union officials and also forbids acceptance of such payments or loans by union officials. In his sworn testimony before a Federal grand jury and the S.E.C. staff, Kirkland acknowledged that he gave advice and introduced Theodore Kheel, a director and special counsel on labor relations of the Stirling Homex Corporation, to officials of the Carpenters Union. Kirkland also admitted before a Federal judge and jury that he signed a promissory note in Kheel's office in the amount of $58,000, arranged for and secured by the corporation.

According to the S.E.C., the leaders of the Carpenters Union used the company loans to buy Homex stock at below market price. After the Carpenters Union signed the collective bargaining agreement with the company, it used its influence in persuading the other A.F.L.-C.I.O. building trades unions to install Homex units and to perform other necessary work on construction sites. Eventually, William and David Stirling went to jail for stock fraud and the company went bankrupt. The Carpenters Union officials invoked the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination, and the government never prosecuted Kirkland.

The huge upsurge in labor corruption since the merger of the A.F.L. and the C.I.O. may well have had its origins in the purge of assorted radicals from unions that began in the late 1940s. These purges left a vacuum that was filled by conservative leaders who regarded themselves as being in the "union business." These careerists, many with underworld connections, were more interested in expanding their influence and bank accounts than in leading mass movement for social change. Furthermore, employers preferred such "responsible" labor leaders who had no hesitation in disciplining rank-and-file workers and knew how to enforce labor peace.

And so a labor union attitude developed that was suspicious of dissent, that identified all criticism of American society and all deviation from conventional values as "Communist inspired." The labor bureaucracy, with th assistance of the government, crushed all expressions of dissatisfaction and reform within organized labor.

Since the end of World War Il, the U.S. government has assisted and protected union leadership groups that either acquiesced or engaged in corrupt activities, because of the services of such groups at home and abroad in the areas of foreign policy and national security. The government repeatedly gave vital support to the union leaders who endorsed and actively helped implement U.S. foreign policy.

In this atmosphere, many officials of labor unions advanced their personal and organizational interests with the help of the government and the underworld. And within this context, the underworld was able to advance its own power and influence so that the spread of labor corruption now extends to the highest levels of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., as well as to independent unions like the Teamsters.

Labor reform movements well up sporadically but fail to break the alliance of the union bureaucracy with the underworld and the government. As a consequence, the house labor continues to stagnate while it is rifled by thieves.

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All original work Copyright 1998. All rights reserved.