Association for Union Democracy

Association for Union Democracy
500 State Street
Brooklyn NY 11217
phone: 718 855-6650
fax: 718 855-6799

The Association for Union Democracy is a national pro-union non-profit that promotes the principles and practices of internal union democracy in the North American labor movement.

Union Democracy for a Strong Labor Movement

January 2, 2000

Re: Laborers Union

From: Herman Benson, Editor Union Democracy Review

Attached is a letter from Robert Luskin, LIUNA GEB attorney, and the piece in Union Democracy Review, November 1999, to which he objects. Please read this exchange and think about it.

He objects on several grounds, but I find most important his comments on the model hiring rules that are supposed to regulate LIUNA job referral halls. Are the LIUNA rules effectively enforced?

Whatever Mr. Luskin says and whatever I say will be less persuasive than what LIUNA members report themselves. What experience have you had in applying for work through LIUNA union halls? Have you ever complained to the LIUNA monitors of unfair treatment? With what results? Please write me at your earliest convenience.

If the replies prove informative, we will consider publishing a summary of some of the correspondence.

You may of course comment on any aspect of Mr. Luskin's letter which you feel can stimulate instructive discussion. However, I am most concerned with job referrals, because a fair hiring system, fairly enforced, is a key to democracy in LIUNA and in all the construction trades.

If Mr. Luskin is correct, and the LIUNA monitors have devised a solution to end favoritism and discrimination in hiring, a rampant evil in construction, that success should be widely publicized as a model for others.

If, however, he is mistaken, that lack should be documented as a first step toward finding a remedy. I realize that you may want to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. If you prefer, you need not list your local number or sign your name to your letter to me. However, the local number, at least, will be helpful.


PS: Copy this letter and the question-form below and circulate them among your fellow unionists. The wider the response, the better.

PPS: If you haven't heard from us for many months, it means either that your subscription has expired or, worse, that you never subscribed. If you want to keep in touch, why not get on the list?

Become an AUD Associate for $25.00/year and get Union Democracy Review and discounts on literature.

To help you in replying, try to answer these questions:

Have you been able to get a copy of your collective bargaining contract? (Send us a copy, if you can.)

Does the contract require employers to hire any workers at all out of the a union hiring hall?

If not, has your local ever tried to win union hiring rights in its collective bargaining contracts?

Even if employers are not required to hire out of the hall, does your

local refer any members out to jobs? (That would be a referral hall.)

If you, yourself, must look for work without union help, does the union send others out to work upon employers' request.

Are you familiar with the hiring hall rules adopted by LIUNA, rules which locals are required to enforce? Have you ever seen a copy of these rules?

Are the rules posted in your union hall? Have you ever actually received a copy for yourself?

Does your union maintain a list of workers looking for job referrals?

Is that list and any referrals made from that list open to you for public inspection? Do your union officers make job referrals by phone out of their homes?

In general, what has been your own experience in looking for work through the union? Does it operate a job referral system in an fair and impartial manner without favoritism or discrimination?

Have you ever made a complaint about unfair hiring to any of the LIUNA monitors? Was your complaint acknowledged? How was it finally settled? Were you satisfied?

Name and address (Helpful but not required)



City___________________________ State ______Zip __________________

Local No. (Helpful but not required)------------------------------

Mail to:

Association for Union Democracy
500 State Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Union Democracy Review
November 30, 1999
No. 127

published by the Association for Union Democracy

If Coia goes, what comes next?

According to the Bureau of National Affairs, Laborers' President Arthur Coia, threatened with an indictment by the Department of Justice, would resign and avoid any future relations with the union. In return, he would plead guilty to a felony but avoid a prison sentence. But Coia denies the report. However, whether Coia goes or stays, the plot has thickened; there is now a problem or two.

The latest threat to Coia stems from a complex transaction: his purchase and resale of a Ferrari in 1991 for $450,000. At internal union hearings in 1998, it was charged that although he bought and owned the car, the certificate of ownership was registered in the name of the Viking Leasing Company allowing him to avoid, or evade, the payment of $77,750 in luxury and sales taxes. Additional advantage: in selling the car, it would bring a better price as a first resale transaction, not from a private person but a dealer.

A nice deal, especially since only the government would lose money; and who among us doesn't yearn to avoid,even evade,taxes. The complexity was that the owner of Viking was an old friend of Coia's; and for years the company enjoyed a lucrative car-leasing contract with the union, thanks to Coia. Now and then, a competing leasing firm would submit a lower bid, sometimes substantially lower; Coia would inform Viking which would simply reduce its own bid and keep the contract.

After extended hearings, Peter Vaira, the LIUNA independent hearing officer, found Coia guilty of violating the union's ethical practices codes. The penalty: a $100,000 fine, but Coia was allowed to remain in office. (Ironically, in the end, Coia lost money on the deal. He sold the vehicle for $380,000, a $70,000 loss.)

Years before, in 1995, the Department of Justice had threatened to sue the union under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act; but it held back after the union agreed to a self-policing program to root out corruption. The hearings of the Viking charges against Coia, and other charges, proceeded in accordance with that consent agreement. If the government is not satisfied with progress under that agreement, it can impose a stricter monitorship, even a federal trusteeship over the union.

When Vaira's decision came down in March, he dismissed charges that Coia had failed to act aggressively against organized crime in LIUNA. Although he found Coia guilty on the Viking count, the Department of Justice announced that it was "disappointed"; it obviously felt the penalty was too lenient. Now whether Coia does or does not resign, the BNA report makes clearer how "disappointed" the DOJ really is. Obviously it wants Coia out. If he does resign, who will replace him and how? Under "normal" conditions, a replacement would be selected by the union's general executive board [GEB]. Under Coia, for whatever reason, the union yielded to government pressure and tolerated certain reforms, some substantial.

Would a successor chosen by the GEB be more likely or less to go along? No one really knows.

If he refuses to resign,and even if he does,it has already become clear that the DOJ has become so deeply dissatisfied with the results of the self-policing process that it must, if it is serious, propose something new, something it feels is more effective.

And so the government faces some tricky problems. Meanwhile, from the standpoint of long-term union reform, the need is the emergence of a new decent leadership, especially in the locals, which requires time. At this point it is not clear whether Coia's leaving or remaining will make any difference.

In a roundabout way this leads back to the critical issue in this union, as in all construction trades. The key to democracy and reform is a fair job referral system, an end to fear and favoritism. When independent-minded critics can be starved out, democracy withers.

Under government pressure, the union adopted model hiring hall rules. But there is no evidence that they are enforced in practice. It is obvious that hundreds of complaints of unfair referral practices have been filed with the LIUNA monitors. In all these years, now close to five years of the consent agreement, there has not been even a report on the disposition of these complaints.

Go Coia or come Coia, that issue remains, sharp as ever.

Letter of December 20, 1999 to AUD from Robert Luskin

LIUNA GEB Attorney:

I am writing to correct the destructive and misleading misstatements in your article "If Coia goes, what comes next?" published in Union Democracy Review of November 30,1999, which speculates about what will happen to the internal reforms that the Laborers' Union has adopted if Mr. Coia were to resign.

While you are certainly free to speculate about the effect of a change in leadership the basis for your speculation is fundamentally misplaced. Mr. Coia deserves substantial credit for the support he lent to the adoption of the internal reforms, but the process of reform is institutional not personal.

The Ethics and Disciplinary Procedure and the Ethical Practices Code were adopted by the LIUNA General Executive Board and the independent officers - selected with the approval of the Department of Justice - derive their authority from these constitutional provisions, not from the GEB, the General President or any individual. Just as important, every current member of the General Executive Board has expressed his continuing support for the process of ridding LIUNA of organized crime influence.

The fact is that since the agreement between United States and LIUNA was adopted in February 1995, every one of the principal government officials responsible for approving and overseeing the agreement - the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, the Chief of the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section and the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois - has been replaced. But that dramatic change in leadership on the government side has not in any way undermined the commitment of the Department of Justice to support LIUNA's reform efforts. A change in leadership at LIUNA is equally unlikely to influence the progress the union has made under government scrutiny.

More specifically, I take issue with two statements in your article which are simply false. First, in describing the relationship between LIUNA and the DOJ, you observe that "it has already become clear that the DOJ has become so deeply dissatisfied with the results of the self-policing process that it must, if it is serious, propose something new...."

While this fact is apparently "clear," it is not at all "clear" what the basis is. While the DOJ did criticize the decision of the Independent Hearing Officer in the Coia case, it has consistently supported the reform process as a whole and publicly applauded its successes in attacking organized crime corruption across the country. The principal Assistant United States Attorney responsible for reviewing LIUNA's efforts was quoted in another BNA article-that you do not cite-characterizing the work of the GEB attorney as "independent, honorable, and aggressive."

The government has also voted with its feet in supporting LIUNA's self-reform efforts. Most recently, in Chicago, for the first time, the government joined with a union as a co-plaintiff in a RICO action attacking organized crime corruption of a labor union. That suit, brought jointly by LIUNA and the Department of Justice against Laborers' Chicago district Council -which the reform process successfully placed under monitorship in 1998 - was immediately settled thorough a consent decree that expressly incorporated the standards and procedures of LIUNA's internal reform process and contemplated the appointment of the GEB Attorney and Inspector General as court officers.

Quite simply, the government has expressed no signs of dissatisfaction, must less deep dissatisfaction, with LIUNA's reform efforts and, by word and deed, has endorsed its evident successes. As well it should. By any objective measure, the LIUNA internal reform process has been a success in ridding the union of organized crime influence and laying the foundation for democracy. It has worked at lest as well and just as quickly as more costly and intrusive forms of government intervention.

Of the individuals who were identified by the government in 1994 in its draft RICO complaint as members of associates of organized crime, not one now holds a position of responsibility or trust at any level of the union or any fund affiliated with LIUNA.Dozens of other individuals have been removed from office, expelled from the union or forced to resign under pressure. More than two dozen LIUNA affiliates, representing more than 68,000 members, including mob dominated locals and district councils in New York, Buffalo, Chicago, and New Jersey, have been placed under supervision or trusteeship, their affairs conducted by officials selected with the approval of the DOJ.

Second, you also declare that "there is no evidence [LIUNA's hiring hall rules] are enforced in practice....In all these years, now close to five years of the consent agreement there has no been even a report on the disposition of these complaints." In fact, we share with AUD an understanding of the importance of fair, objective, and honestly applied hiring hall rules to the growth of democracy within LIUNA.

In the last year, the GEB attorney has overseen on site reviews of every LIUNA local operating a hiring hall to evaluate their compliance with the amended rules. In those locals where deficiencies were identified, regular in-person follow up visits have been conducted to assure that the locals adopted the necessary changes. We have not hesitated to use the disciplinary process to enforce compliance. In the last three months alone, five officials were removed from positions of responsibility because of a persistent disregard for their duty to implement the model rules.

Significantly, every aspect of this process-including the basis for and disposition of every individual disciplinary case-has been fully reported in the Laborer magazine, which is sent to every union member. Every individual who raises a complaint of hiring hall irregularities receives a written response to his or her complaint, regardless of whether the complaint results in disciplinary action. Your statement that there has been no action in response to hiring hall complaints and no report of the results is just plain false.

AUD serves as an important source of information for union members on issues of critical importance to the good of union reform. The LIUNA reform process, in particular, raises legitimate issues worthy of your attention and of public discussion. But you owe your readers the facts, and, in this instance you have fallen short.

Yours sincerely, Robert D. Luskin

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