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LIUNA, Justice Approve New Agreement

Continuing Reform Program Until 2006

 

By Brian Lockett

Friday, January 21, 2000

 

The Department of Justice and the Laborers' International Union of North America Jan. 20 announced an agreement that will end government oversight of internal reforms in the union by 2006.

 

Under the new agreement, the union will continue over a six-year period what the Justice Department termed its "anti-corruption, pro-democracy reforms" that began in 1995 under the first LIUNA-Justice oversight agreement.

 

DOJ announced the agreement at a press briefing in Washington, D.C., while LIUNA issued a separate announcement.

 

James K. Robinson, assistant attorney general for the criminal division at Justice, told reporters at the press briefing: "It is my hope that this reform program may set an example that more can be achieved through cooperation than through conflict. Today's news indicates that the resolution of often difficult issues does not necessitate hostility and court action."

 

"This agreement is a clear acknowledgment by the government that our union's innovative internal reforms have been effective in ridding the influence of organize crime and corruption, and in building a union that is more open and responsive to its members," LIUNA President Terence O'Sullivan said in a Jan. 20 statement.

 

Robert Luskin, the in-house prosecutor who has been responsible for prosecution of disciplinary actions and trusteeships under the prior agreement, was upbeat in his assessment of the progress LIUNA has made toward reform. "In the five years since these reform programs were first adopted, LIUNA has made extraordinary strides in eliminating the influence of organized crime and corruption," he said.

 

Removes Threat of Takeover by DOJ

 

Unlike previous agreements, the new agreement removes the threat of the Justice Department imposing the terms of a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act consent decree that, until now, allowed Justice to place the union under federal court receivership if the pace and extent of reform did not meet department expectations.

 

In exchange, the union agreed to more than doubling the length of the previously negotiated reform program. Under the new agreement, Justice has the right to veto any major change in the existing reform program. The agreement guarantees independent oversight of the next two international union elections at the 2001 and 2006 conventions.

 

The new agreement replaces the one expiring Jan. 31, 2000, and is the second extension of the original oversight agreement that was implemented on Feb. 13, 1995. The original three-year oversight agreement allowed the union to root out corrupt practices through internal reforms. Under previous agreement, the department has retained the authority to impose a consent decree and appoint officers to take over the union's day-to-day operations if the union is not making what the department considers to be adequate progress toward reform and purging itself of organized crime influence.

 

The initial agreement was modified and extended for one year in January 1998, and again in January 1999.

 

Government Goals Being Achieved

 

Pleased with the pace and extent of the LIUNA cleanup, Robinson said the reform program has substantially achieved the government's goals of internal reform "with no litigation and at no expense to taxpayers."

 

Under the cooperative program, Robinson said LIUNA has adopted an ethical practices code and disciplinary procedures that, to date, have caused 226 individuals--127 of whom were alleged to have ties to organized crime--to leave the union because of expulsion resulting from disciplinary charges, retirement, or resignation.

 

LIUNA has imposed 40 trusteeships and "supervisions" of local unions for alleged ties to organized crime, financial mismanagement, or lack of democratic practices, he said. The trusteeships and supervisions have resulted in removal of approximately 200 officers as well as implementation of better financial management and greater democracy for local union members, Robinson said.

 

Robinson considered it significant that no one named in the department's original 212-page consent decree remain in office, as a result of the reform program. This includes Arthur A. Coia who announced his retirement last month as president of the union (234 DLR A-8, 12/7/99).

 

Robinson said LIUNA agreed to court-appointed officers in pockets of organized crime activity at the Mason Tenders District Council in New York City, the Chicago Laborers District Council, and LIUNA Local 210 in Buffalo.

 

An important improvement in LIUNA operations, according to Robinson, was the first direct secret-ballot election for international president and secretary-treasurer at the union's 1996 convention. He said the vote was the first contested election for a LIUNA presidency. The election, conducted under supervision of Stephen Goldberg, a professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, cost the union $5.9 million, according to union reports.

 

Goldberg has been retained by the union to serve as the independent elections officer for the 2001 election, LIUNA said, and has agreed to a budget that is "significantly less" than the 1996-1997 budget.

 

LIUNA said the new agreement allows delegates to the 2006 convention to change or modify reform programs so long as the general executive board has not solicited or supported such action. There is no provision for extension or renewal of the final agreement, the union said.

 

Negotiations' 'Shared Premises'

 

Michael Bearse, LIUNA 's general counsel, and Luskin agreed that the union and Justice agreed on the terms of the new agreement with relative ease. In Bearse's view, LIUNA and Justice were "striving for the same goal: a union that is more free, more open, more democratic and which is firmly set on the path of reform that has been strictly followed for the past five years."

 

Luskin said the negotiations were "one of the most significant and, at the same time, one of the least contentious negotiations in which I have ever participated." The negotiations began with "the absolutely shared premises," he said, that organized crime "has no place in the union," that it is the union's obligation "to clean its own house," that this has to be done in a way that preserves the ability of the union to serve its members, and that the process put in place by the union and the government in 1995 "is working as well as any process that anyone could imagine."

 

According to Luskin, "All we needed to do in reaching this new agreement was to find out a way not to break something that did not need fixing."

 

Copyright © 2000 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.


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