ISSN 1522-5968

DOJ, Laborers Union File Consent Decree Aimed at Chicago Laborers' District Council

By Michael Bologna
August 13, 1999

CHICAGO--The campaign to dismantle organized crime's alleged control over the Chicago Laborers' District Council will receive some federal muscle under an unusual consent decree jointly filed in federal court Aug. 12 by the Department of Justice and the Laborers' International Union of North America ( United States. v. Construction and General Laborers' District Council of Chicago, N.D. Ill., No. 99-C-5229, consent decree 8/12/99 ).

Acknowledging that LIUNA's internal reform process had encountered a range of problems removing La Cosa Nostra's long-standing control over the CLDC, the consent decree establishes an unprecedented supervisory process aimed at returning democracy and membership control over the 19,000 member district council.

That process will include the appointment, by a federal judge, of a special monitor to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing. Unlike under the trusteeship currently in place, however, the monitorship will have various resources of the federal courts and the Federal Bureau of Investigation at its disposal.

CLDC delegates voted 34-11 on Aug. 11 to approve the consent decree. CLDC oversees the operations of 21 LIUNA locals in Chicago, as well as the union's pension, training, and health-welfare funds valued at more than $1.5 billion.

"This consent decree adds to our track record of success, builds on our partnership, and brings our union one step closer to restoring the complete integrity that our members deserve,"Arthur A. Coia, LIUNA president, said Aug. 12. "We will achieve our goal of making LIUNA the strongest, cleanest, most democratic union anywhere."

Seen as Unprecedented Agreement

Scott Lassar, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said the consent decree extends and expands the efforts of the trusteeship. He observed that the two-year process established under the consent decree is unusual in the context of the Justice Department's four-year-old effort to erase organized crime's influence over LIUNA because it marks the first time the department has sought court supervision of a LIUNA entity. The process is also innovative because it is being accomplished with the support of the international union and the CLDC.

"The trusteeship has made substantial progress in removing the influence of organized crime over the district council and the consent decree will ensure that organized crime is prevented from reasserting its influence in the future when an election is held to select officers by secret ballot in a free, democratic process," Lassar said during a briefing with reporters in Chicago. "The CDC delegates deserve credit for choosing to join in the consent decree."

The consent decree, which still requires the approval of a federal judge, responds to a complaint filed jointly Aug. 11 by the Justice Department and LIUNA through its General Executive Board Attorney Robert Luskin. Among other things, that complaint alleged CLDC had been infiltrated by corrupt individuals and organized crime figures who have exploited the organization for their own personal gain and the benefit of organized crime for three decades.

According to the consent decree, not a single contested election had been held and all of the CLDC's principal officers had been either members or associates of the organized crime in Chicago, which is commonly known as the "Outfit." The complaint points to 21 CLDC officials who are either members of associates of organized crime in Chicago and said all four of its top officers fell into one of these categories.

'Additional Measures' Needed

While the district council was placed under the control of a trustee in February 1998 through the LIUNA internal reform process, the consent decree stated that organized crime's "influence of the CLDC presents special problems associated with endemic, long-term corruption that requires additional measures."

Lassar said those additional measures would include the appointment of a monitor to investigate and prosecute individuals for breaches of the union's ethics code. Significantly, Lassar said, the monitor would be able to seek subpoenas from the court and access FBI intelligence to support investigations and prosecutions. He said that LIUNA investigators and prosecutors are currently barred from such access due to various "secrecy" requirements.

The consent decree also would establish a trustee/supervisory officer, who would oversee various daily activities of the district council and supervise elected officials. Lassar said the government would petition the court to maintain Robert Bloch, a Chicago labor attorney, as the district council's trustee. Bloch, who has served as trustee for the last 18 months, would change his title to supervisor after democratic elections are held. Bloch predicted such elections would be held within six to 12 months.

Lassar applauded the "courage" of delegates to the district council who voted to expand the reform process through the consent decree. Bloch said the group chose to work with the government for the betterment of the organization.

"The District Council delegates could have chosen to ignore or oppose the government' lawsuit," Bloch said. "Instead they democratically voted to participate in this consent decree, which was modified after delegate input so as to protect the union's interest and work for the betterment of the membership and their families."

Bloch said one delegate to the district council has moved for the removal of the trusteeship through a suit filed recently in federal court. He added, however, that the suit was filed under the Landrum-Griffin Act and would not affect the outcome of the consent decree.

Luskin said that trusteeships, by law, are generally structured to function for 18 months. He conceded that LIUNA's control over the CLDC probably would have been challenged without the intervention he sought with the Justice Department. "Without this tool, we could have faced a legal challenge," Luskin said. "We think we could have prevailed...but we didn't want to have to fight over that in court."

Asked whether he is pleased with the pace of reform being accomplished within LIUNA, Luskin conceded it has taken much longer than he had hoped. "I think when we started this we hoped it might go like the Persian Gulf War," Luskin said. "Instead, we're fighting World War I and that means progress can be slow."

Jim McGough, director of a small group of reformers known as Laborers For Justice, said the success of this latest experiment in government-sponsored reform would depend on the courage and vision of the person chosen as monitor.

"It remains to be seen who the monitor will be," said Jim McGough, director of Laborers for Justice. "A lot depends on the aggressiveness of the court monitor and his willingness to inform the members of past corrupt policies and procedures."

Text of the consent decree appears in Section E.

Copyright © 1999 by The Bureau of National Affairs

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