CHICAGO, IL. -- JAMES B. BURNS, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, together with PAUL E. COFFEY, Chief of the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, United States Department of Justice, HERBERT L. COLLINS, JR., Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and CHARLES C. MASTEN, Inspector General, United States Department of Labor, today announced an agreement that will bring sweeping election reform to the Laborers' International Union of North America, a union with a long history of influence by organized crime. For the first time in the history of the union, members will be able to cast their ballots in a nationwide, direct rank and file election for the International's principal officers.
"The Laborers' Union has lacked meaningful democracy for decades," said Burns. "At the 1981 convention, the only occasion in which any member offered even token opposition, the candidate was physically beaten on the convention floor." LIUNA, which has 425,000 voting members and 646 locals, is one of the nation's 10 largest labor unions. Federal law enforcement efforts have been centered in Chicago because of allegations that the Union was controlled by elements of the Chicago mob. In the past, all of LIUNA's national officers were chosen by delegates elected by locals to attend a convention at which officers were elected every five years.
The reforms agreed to by the union and the United States are designed to eliminate intimidation, promote participation, and provide for a free, fair, and democratic election. The measures include proportional voting, regionalization of vice-presidents, secret ballot voting at the convention, and direct rank and file election of the General President and General Secretary Treasurer.
In the past, 10 vice-presidents on the General Executive Board held their seats on an at-large basis and usually were elected by affirmation after having been appointed in mid-term by the General President. Under the reform agreement, the General Executive Board is expanded from 12 members to 15 members. Nine of 13 vice-presidents are to be elected by geographic region, making them accountable to a geographic constituency, rather than being beholden to the General President. All union members also will be eligible to vote on a referendum which, if passed, would result in the entire 15-member General Executive Board being elected by direct rank and file voting, instead of being elected by convention delegates, beginning with the next election in 2001.
Burns announced that the election reforms would be supervised by an independent Elections Officer, jointly selected by the Union and the United States. The Elections Officer will be Professor Stephen B. Goldberg from the Northwestern University School of Law. Professor Goldberg teaches labor law and is a well known mediator and arbitrator. He currently represents the Securities and Exchange Commission in proceedings to return the criminal gains of Michael Milken and Drexel, Burnham, Lambert to their victims. He also is President of the Mediation Research and Education Project (MREP), which promotes the mediation of labor grievances and the development of cooperative labor-management relationships.
Thomas Geoghegan and William P. Hobgood will serve as Deputy Elections Officers. Mr. Geoghegan is a labor lawyer in Chicago who has written extensively on the need to increase democracy within unions and has substantial experience in national elections involving the United Steelworkers of America, the United Mine Workers, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. He is author of "Which Side Are You On? Trying To Be For Labor When It's Flat On Its Back", a book about the state of the labor movement in the United States. Mr. Hobgood, a former Assistant Secretary of Labor, is a widely respected mediator and arbitrator who has extensive experience in overseeing union elections, including the Teamsters referendum election in 1991.
"The people who have agreed to administer these election reforms are dedicated to holding an election free from intimidation and corruption," said Burns. "They are individuals of great integrity and we have worked with them to ensure that they are not subjected to improper influence." The centerpiece of these election reforms will be a rank and file election for the top two Union offices that will be held late this year. In this election, every member will have the right to cast an individual secret ballot for the candidate of their choice.
"This union does not belong to organized crime, or to any individual union leader," said Coffey. "LIUNA belongs to the members who now will get the opportunity to control their own destiny."
The election reforms announced today are the latest product of a government supervised internal reform effort conducted by LIUNA. One year ago, the United States and LIUNA entered into an unprecedented three-year agreement which allowed the union to attempt to clean itself up while giving the United States a signed consent decree that may be implemented immediately if the United States believes that LIUNA is not doing the job. The agreement was reached in February 1995 after the United States had served the union with a draft civil racketeering complaint that alleged widespread corruption as the result of control of LIUNA by organized crime.
As part of its reform effort the union has passed an ethics code similar to that adopted by the United Auto Workers. This code makes a union member's association with organized crime a ground for being removed from the union. The union has established four new positions charged with enforcing its disciplinary code. These positions are an Inspector General, who investigates charges; a General Executive Board Attorney, who prosecutes charges; an Independent Hearing Officer, who hears cases brought under the code, and an Appellate Officer, who adjudicates appeals from decisions made by the Independent Hearing Officer.
In the past year the Union has instituted reforms of its hiring hall procedures and has initiated numerous disciplinary cases based upon complaints filed by members. These complaints have been investigated by the Inspector General's office with a team of former law enforcement officers, and the union claims that 20 members have resigned or been removed as a result of disciplinary procedures.
"Progress has been made," said Burns, "but much work needs to be done. We will be closely monitoring everything that the Union does to make sure that its leaders carry out their stated commitment to eliminating corruption. If they fail to carry out that commitment, then the decree will be implemented. If they follow through, then the members will benefit from an honest union, achieved with minimal government interference. We will be watching."
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U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois
James B. Burns, United States Attorney
219 South Dearborn Street, Fifth Floor
Chicago, Illinois 60604
Main Office Number: 312-353-5300
Public Information Office: 312-353-5318; fax: 312-353-1842
Randall Samborn: AUSA and Public Information Officer
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