LABORERS' DEAL IS EXTENDED
By Sherie Winston
January 18, 1999
THE LABORERS' UNION HAS WONanother reprieve from the U.S. Dept. of Justice. In recognition of the beleaguered union's efforts to cleanse its ranks of organized crime and reform its internal policies, the government has extended for one year its oversight agreement through Jan. 31, 2000.
First negotiated in 1995, the three-year oversight plan was granted a one-year extension in January 1998.
Under the original pact, DOJ and the laborers approved a series of internal reforms, including the first rank-and-file election for the union's president and secretary-treasurer.
The union also agreed to reform its local hiring hall procedures and allowed for various other operations to be reviewed by independent officials.
Further, the government retained the right to implement a consent decree and appoint court officers to take over the union if the internal reform program faltered (ENR 2/27/95 p.10).
"Our innovative internal reform program has made significant progress in eliminating corruption and organized crime from our union over the past four years," says Michael Bearse, laborers general counsel.
The new agreement "acknowledges that we have had real success and operated in good faith," Bearse adds. Since the reform campaign began, more than 450 investigations have been opened.
More than 189 individuals have left the union's ranks due to criminal or ethical violations or ties to organized crime and some 31 trusteeships and monitors have been put in place at union locals or district councils.
A separate disciplinary proceeding continues against General President Arthur A. Coia. The independent hearing officer in that matter is expected to rule by early February.
There are two significant changes in this latest version of the oversight agreement, according to union officials. DOJ no longer will have "unfettered discretion" to file the consent decree, says Bearse.
Now, officials must show a "reasonable basis" for exercising that option.
The agreement also recognizes the substantial resources -- about $ 7 million for each of the last three years -- the union allocated for the reform program.
There will be an effort to hold down further costs. "Reform has been a major financial commitment," says Bearse, noting that the union has reduced staff, reallocated resources and cut back on some general programs.