Hard Hat News Extra

Congress Hears Union Members' Complaints, May Act...Or Not

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)

Testify...and Pay the Price

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 of Manos.

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.

More Union Democracy?

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.

Hard Hat Exclusive Interview: Laborers' Top Lawyer

Hard Hat conducted a two-hour interview with Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) General Counsel Michael Bearse.

The union's top in-house lawyer was our second choice, but General President Arthur Coiawas not available. Maybe next time.

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."

Don't whine, everything's fine

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."

Chicago Laborers Fight Mob Reputation

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 to 1995.

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.

Are They Mafia, or Just Italian?

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 the case.

"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 case.

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.

Race-Based Coalitions Mask New York City Labor Racket

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 latest edition

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 Westchester.

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 white.

Whatever the Color, the Con Stays the Same

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 shake 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 payments.

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 in 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.' White trade unionists didn't have to make distinctions anymore."

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.

Coming soon: LIUNA Special Edition

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


Laborers Lawyer Objects

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 don't 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 it.

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
Washington, D.C.

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 occasionally . . . 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.

Laborer's Daughter Objects, Too

My name is Laura Portiss and my father, Joseph Portiss, has been a LIUNA member for 24 years. I am writing to advise you of the suffering LIUNA Officals have caused and are causing my family.

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.

Laura Portiss
Dundas, Ontario