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Laborers' District Council in Chicago Placed Under Trusteeship Following Hearings

 

By Brian Lockett and Michael J. Bologna

Tuesday, February 10, 1998

 

 

 

The independent hearing officer for the Laborers' International Union of North America Feb. 7 imposed a trusteeship on the Chicago District Council of Laborers, following internal hearings on charges that the district council has been under the influence of organized crime for 25 years.

 

Peter Vaira, LIUNA 's independent hearing officer, said his ruling is based on information gathered at hearings last summer and fall that lasted five weeks.

 

“A trusteeship is warranted to correct corruption and remove the influence of organized crime, to restore democratic procedures, and to carry out LIUNA 's legitimate objects,” according to Vaira, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the former executive director of the President's Commission on Organized Crime.

 

The Chicago District Council oversees the operations of 21 LIUNA locals in Chicago and the union's pension, training, and health-welfare funds, which Vaira said are valued at more than $1 billion. Approximately 19,000 LIUNA members are affiliated with locals under the control of the Chicago District Council.

 

Robert D. Luskin, LIUNA 's in-house prosecutor and attorney for the union's general executive board, sought trusteeship for the district council in charges filed last summer. Luskin sought to rid the council of organized crime influence, correct past financial malpractice, and restore democratic principles. He alleged that “for the last 25 years, the leadership of the Chicago District Council has had strong, discernible ties to the leadership of organized crime in Chicago.”

 

Vaira Says Evidence Supports Claims

 

Among many rulings in the 91-page decision, Vaira said he found that evidence supported claims that officers and delegates of the district council “have been or are associates or made members of the Chicago Outfit,” the organized crime group in Chicago.

 

Robert E. Bloch, a Chicago labor attorney, has been appointed as trustee to manage the district council's day-to-day operations. Bloch's appointment has been approved by the U.S. Attorney's office for the northern district of Illinois, which monitors LIUNA's reform process.

 

“LIUNA and the trustee for the Chicago District Council are committed to continuing the reform efforts in the district council and to restoring democratic practices to that affiliate,” Luskin said. “At the same time, the union and Mr. Bloch will provide strong representation for the rights of all union members in the Chicago area.”

 

Luskin called the independent hearing officer's decision “a major step forward for reform process not only in accomplishing goals but in demonstrating commitment.” Luskin did not rule out pursuing other charges against district council officials in separate disciplinary hearings.

 

The IHO's decision is final on matters and trusteeship and elections, he said. There is appellate authority only on IHO rulings on disciplinary charges, Luskin explained.

 

Under the terms of a three-year oversight agreement, the Justice Department may impose the terms of a consent decree approved by the parties that would allow the federal government to take control of the union at any time if the government decides that adequate progress is not being made toward cleaning up the union.

 

The agreement has been extended for one year to allow the union to complete investigations and hearings associated with the reform process.

 

Ongoing Process of Reform

 

David Buvinger, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, would not comment directly on the decision. He noted, however, that the trusteeship is part of the ongoing process of reform happening within LIUNA under the supervision of the Justice Department.

 

Laborers for Justice, a reform group with LIUNA , applauded Vaira's decision, noting that the Chicago District Council's reputation for corruption and mob domination goes back several decades.

 

“Laborers for Justice is pleased that Hearing Officer Vaira finally issued his decision and we look forward to innovative reforms at the Chicago District Council,” said James McGough, a spokesman for the group.

 

McGough, however, was critical of the delays associated with the decision. He noted that the trusteeship hearings were held last summer. He said the long period of waiting points to the need for a significant expansion of the office of the independent hearing officer.

 

Bruno Caruso, president of the Chicago District Council, and the council's attorney, Sherman Carmell, could not be reached for comment.

 

Copyright © 1998 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.


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