Bureau of National Affairs


LIUNA Places Chicago Local Under Emergency Trusteeship

By Michael Bologna

Wednesday, May 26, 1999

CHICAGO--Concerned that a Chicago local of the Laborers International Union of North America is being operated by an officer associated with organized crime and that democratic practices have deteriorated, the international union May 24 slapped the local with an emergency trusteeship.

Robert D. Luskin, LIUNA's General Executive Board attorney, said he initially sought a trusteeship for Local 2 on April 23 based on charges relating to the local's relationship to organized crime and its misuse of funds. Luskin noted, however, that concerns over the local's leadership and democratic practices have escalated in recent weeks, persuading him to place the local under the control of a trustee on an emergency basis. The local represents approximately 1,200 laborers involved primarily in sewer and tunnel construction projects.

Of primary concern, Luskin said, is a recent finding by Peter Vaira, the union's independent hearing officer, that John Matassa, Local 2's long-time president and business manager, is a "made" member of organized crime in Chicago (96 DLR A-8, 5/19/99). "That finding, as far as we were concerned, elevated this situation to a need for prompt action," Luskin said.

Hearing Within 30 Days

Luskin said a hearing pertaining to the emergency trusteeship would be held before hearing officer Vaira within 30 days. In the meantime, the affairs of the local will be managed by Chicago defense attorney David Schippers, who has been named emergency trustee. Schippers is a former federal prosecutor and acted as chief investigative counsel for the House Judiciary Committee during the recent impeachment hearings aimed at President Clinton.

Luskin informed Local 2 officers and members of the trusteeship in a May 24 letter. The letter points to the May b12 finding by Vaira that Matassa has a long career in organized crime in violation of the union's ethical practices code. Vaira's decision, which has not yet been made final, permanently barred Matassa from positions within the local and from membership in the union.

In addition, Luskin's letter pointed to the "continued collapse of democratic practicesd" at Local 2 as the rationale for the emergency trusteeship. He cited a decision by the local's executive board limiting members' input on the April 23 trusteeship. During a recent general membership meeting, Luskin said members tried to overturn the board's decision to reject a supervision agreement with the GEB attorney, but were barred from doing so. .

The letter also pointed to several instances in which Local 2 officers failed to carry out their duties to the membership. In particular, the letter noted that certain members of the executive board recently changed the locks at the union's headquarters and refused to provide keys to fellow board members. It further stated that the executive board had failed to hold general membership meetings in accordance with constitutional provisions. .

Luskin said "physical control" of Local 2's offices has been achieved, but noted that the trusteeship has not been fully implemented. Luskin declined to elaborate, but noted, "at this point we have reason to be concerned we won't receive their full cooperation. We may have to seek an injunction to enforce the trusteeship."

James Montgomery, who represents the local, rejected the notion that the executive board of the local had done anything to impede the emergency trusteeship. While the board objects to the imposition of a trusteeship, he said it would wait to challenge the GEB's allegations before hearing officer Vaira.

"We thought they were in many ways precipitous in their decision to make this an emergency takeover," Montgomery said. "We felt there were several claims that were inaccurate, but we will challenge them during the hearing in the next 30 days."

Copyright © 1999 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.

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