JUSTICE PONDERS LABORERS' DEAL
By Sherie Winston
December 20, 1999
OFFICIALS FROM THE JUSTICE DEPT. AND THE LABORERS' UNION CONTINUE TO MEETbehind closed doors to decide the next phase of the government's five-year oversight agreement with the union that expires Jan. 31, 2000.
The original three-year plan, including a widespread internal reform program and the first rank-and-file elections for the union's top two offices, was put in place in February 1995. The goal was to rid the union of organized crime influences. An inspector general and an executive board attorney were appointed to oversee the reform efforts. The pact has twice been granted one-year extensions.
Industry sources believe that some type of government oversight will continue, but the participants in the talks decline to give any progress reports. Things are going fine and "everybody is feeling comfortable with the atmosphere and direction" of the meetings, says Bob Luskin, the executive board attorney.
Sources say a decision could be made by early January, but the next phase is expected to be finalized before the current plan expires.
The internal reform program has "accomplished what we said it would do," says Michael Bearse, general counsel for the laborers.
Since the oversight plan began, more than 200 officials have been removed from regional and local offices for criminal or ethical offenses. Trusteeships have also been put in place at numerous district councils and union locals.
The government has recognized that the reform programs have proven themselves and will continue to be union practices, Bearse says. Both sides want "reasonable reassurances" that progress will continue. "We can do that," asserts Bearse. It is just a matter of "agreeing on the mechanism."
The fact that the union will have a new president should not make a difference in the outcome. The reform process is an institutional process and is not affected by who sits in the president's chair, says Luskin.
"This union has committed itself to reform," says Terence M. O'Sullivan, the laborers' newly-elected general president. He takes office on Jan. 1, succeeding Arthur A. Coia who announced his retirement on Dec. 6 (ENR 12/13 p.13).
Although internal disciplinary charges were brought against Coia, union officials say his retirement was not connected to any deal with the government.
When the last round of talks to extend the oversight plan were held in 1998, there was every indication that Coia would be continuing as president, says Bearse.