Bureau Of National Affairs
LEADING THE NEWS
SWEENEY ATTACKS HOUSE GOP LEADERS FOR STAGING UNION “SHOW TRIALS”
By Court Gifford
Friday July 12, 1996
AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney July 11 accused House Republican leaders of staging anti-union “show trials at taxpayer expense” in retaliation for organized labor's $35 million political campaign aimed primarily against GOP members of Congress.
Sweeney's statement came as the House Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on Human Resources and Intergovernmental Relations, chaired by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn), began a long-awaited hearing into the Labor Department's handling of union racketeering cases. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime is expected to hold a separate hearing later this month on the circumstances surrounding a 1995 oversight agreement between the Justice Department and the Laborers' International Union of North America.
“This week, the Gingrich House Republican campaign against the interests of working families moves into a new stage: show trials at taxpayer expense,” Sweeney said in a statement. “Today's hearing is part of an organized smear campaign against union leaders by the House Republican leadership--an attempt to divert public attention away from their core agenda: cutting Medicare, tax cuts for the wealthy, and reduced environmental and workplace safety protection.”
Sweeney's statement accused Shays of “using taxpayer money to attack unions, in contrast to our use of private money to protest their cuts in Medicare, worker safety, and college loans. If anyone's ethics should be investigated, it's the Republican leadership's.”
Meanwhile, in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-Texas) attacked labor officials for trying to “buy the next election by “selling” a “liberal” agenda through radio and television advertising.
He suggested that hearings on the Justice Department settlement with the Laborers will focus on why LIUNA President Arthur Coia, a prominent Clinton fund-raiser, was allowed to remain in office, despite the department's conclusion that the union was influenced by organized crime.
Shays strenuously denied that he was conducting the hearing at the behest of the House GOP leadership, which has been escalating its rhetoric against organized labor since late last year when the $35 million political fund was announced by the federation. Indeed, Shays said GOP leaders had tried to discourage him from holding the hearing because they felt that it would “take away” from the crime subcommittee's investigation of the Laborers.
Shays appeared shaken by Sweeney's statement, which he received midway through the hearing, saying that he took “strong exception beyond measure” to Sweeney's charges.
But Democrats continued to insist that Shays was carrying out a “vendetta” against organized labor orchestrated by the House Republican leadership, and they pointed to an April 23, 1996, letter to GOP committee and subcommittee chairmen asking them to supply the Republican leadership with information on the “Influence of Washington Labor Union Bosses/Corruption” and/or misconduct on the part of the Clinton administration. The memo was from Rep. Robert S. Walker (R-Pa) and Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa).
Shays denied that he was influenced by the Walker/Nussle memo: “I took that memo and threw it into the wastepaper basket. I told my staff they were not to respond to it, and I thought it was inappropriate.”
But Rep. Cardiss Collins (D-Ill), the senior Democrat on the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, said she believed the hearing was an extension of the wave of criticism leveled against organized labor since the first of the year by the House Republican Conference, chaired by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio). The conference has issued a series of reports, under the heading of Washington Union Boss Watch, that have questioned the activities of union leaders, including their support for President Clinton.
“If the Republican leadership wants to campaign against organized labor, it has every right to do so,” Collins said. “But they do not have the right to mask a blatantly political campaign as legitimate congressional oversight.”
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif) joined Collins in questioning Shays' motive for calling the hearing, saying “when I look at the contents of the memo from your leadership and the history of this committee, I think there has to be a partisan Republican attack on labor in the subtext of this hearing. I hope I'm wrong. . . .”
Shays was defended by Rep. Mark Edward Souder (R-Ind) who charged that the chairman had been made the target of “liberal hit men” who were out to “intimidate” Republicans for conducting a legitimate investigation into the department's handling of union corruption investigations. He accused Democrats of trying to turn a “bland, mild, typical government reform oversight hearing” into a platform from which to launch a partisan attack on the House Republican leadership.
Shays said in an opening statement the purpose of the hearing was to find out from officials of the Departments of Labor and Justice “what it will take to overcome the legal, political, and bureaucratic barriers that still prevent this Department of Labor from playing an effective role in the detection of labor racketeering and the protection of union members' rights and funds from exploitation by organized crime?”
In subsequent testimony that focused primarily on the working relationship between the independent Office of the Inspector General at the Labor Department and the Department of Justice, Charles C. Masten, DOL Inspector General, said his office, which conducts all labor racketeering investigations for the agency, has been affected by budget reductions. But he said this had not prevented the OIG from “vigorously, and I believe successfully,” carrying out its mission. Masten did acknowledged, however, that some of the OIG's recommendations for improving the effectiveness of the government's union racketeering investigations had not been implemented by the Labor Department.
Another witness was Acting Assistant Attorney General John Keeney who defended the Justice Department's decision to enter into the agreement that allowed LIUNA officials to take steps aimed at ridding the union of organized crime influence. The government is free to seize control of the union anytime it believes that union officials are not living up to their part of the agreement, he said.
(c) 2002 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. Washington, D.C. 20037