Feb. 2, 2000
If there is one reason why
the American labor movement is in the doghouse it is that it is
no longer a movement. It no longer is an activity presumably dedicated
to the improvement of wages and working conditions of its dues-paying
On the contrary, it has become
a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party. And even worse,
over the years we have witnessed the existence of crime-controlled
unions led by crooks who robbed their members and the public with
impunity. Under George Meany's leadership, the AFL-CIO finally
expelled the larcenous Teamsters Union leadership from its midst.
But now we have a scandal that
stinks to high heaven, one that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney
should do something about if he wants his organization to win
public opinion back to at least a neutral view of labor as a movement.
In public opinion surveys about which occupations and professions
enjoy high public esteem, labor officials are among the lowest.
And when you hear this story, thanks to Steven Greenhouse of the
New York Times, you'll understand why.
Suppose you are told a crooked
union president, forced out of office by U.S. government investigators,
was the owner of three Ferraris for which he paid $1,050,000,
$450,000 and $215,000 for a total of $1,715,000. And that in making
these purchases he had admittedly defrauded municipal and state
governments of sales taxes amounting to $100,000, and that this
very same labor leader has now been granted the title of president
emeritus of the union with an annual salary of $250,000, the same
salary he earned when he was the union president - what would
you think of such a union?
What would you think of a labor
leadership which allowed such a disgusting episode to occur? And
what would you think of government investigators who agreed to
such an annual salary payout of union member dues to its crooked
president? At long last, is there no shame in the AFL-CIO Executive
Council to allow such a deal to happen?
The union I am talking about
is the Laborers' International Union of North America, whose 750,000
members are among the lowest-paid in the construction trades.
Its president, Arthur Coia, 56, who retired under pressure from
government investigators, has agreed to plead guilty to a single
felony fraud charge of cheating his home state, Rhode Island,
and his home town, Barrington, of the sales taxes that were due
on his purchase of three Ferraris. Punishment? Repayment of the
taxes, a $10,000 fine, two years of probation. And - the topper:
He receives (did the dues-payers vote on this?) a quarter-of-a-million
dollar annual salary as "president emeritus" of the
union and he gets to keep the Ferraris, I suppose.
Shouldn't some congressional
committee take a real look into Mr. Coia's career? The union chieftain,
described as a onetime bigtime fund raiser for President Clinton
and the Democratic Party and a close buddy of AFL-CIO President
John Sweeney, took out full page ads (at union expense?) defending
the Clintons against Whitewater allegations. And this should interest
Mayor Rudy Giuliani: The fact that Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed
Mr. Coia's union convention in 1996.\
What government agencies do
or don't do is a civic question. What the AFL-CIO Executive Council
does or doesn't do is a moral question. We all know AFL-CIO labor
unions have a jurisdictional independence and can't be interfered
with by the Executive Council. But at the very least, AFL-CIO
President Sweeney and his associates should express their contempt
at Mr. Coia's deal made at the expense of union members and bar
the union from an AFL-CIO relationship until something is done
about a quarter-million dollar salary for life to a union president
who bargain-pleaded a felony charge.
Arnold Beichman, a research
fellow at the Hoover Institution, is a columnist for The Washington