By ANDREW JULIEN
November 5, 1998
A federal lawsuit that accused the Connecticut
Laborers' union of wielding influence by controlling dues money
has been settled, with union officials agreeing to a new system
of collecting and distributing the funds.
The lawsuit took aim at the powerful Connecticut
Laborers District Council and its longstanding financial practices.
The council traditionally collected dues from members across the
state, then funneled funds back to the locals.
The lawsuit, filed by Local 665 in Bridgeport
and its business manager, Ronald Nobili, said the control wielded
by the officers on the district council allowed them to use funds
to reward supporters and punish enemies at the state's 10 Laborers'
Under the settlement, the council will be
required to disburse dues money in proportion to each local's
working membership. The agreement also requires a secret ballot
vote on any proposed increases in dues. The council now collects
about $1.2 million in working dues from 5,000 members.
"It's basically a sea change,"
Nobili said. "They won't be currying favor now."
Robert Cheverie, who represented the district
council, said the interpretation offered by Nobili was an ``outrage.''
He said some of the larger locals in the state did, in fact, subsidize
some of the smaller ones. But Cheverie said the goal was simply
to keep the smaller locals in business.
``The idea that this was some sort of patronage
system is just not the case,'' Cheverie said.
Cheverie said the district council decided
to settle the lawsuit to avoid wasting valuable resources in protracted
litigation. ``The settlement is in everyone's interest,'' he said.
``I don't think anyone won. I don't think anyone lost.''
But Carl Biers, executive director of the
New York-based Association for Union Democracy, said the settlement
could have implications throughout the labor movement, where a
trend toward consolidation has taken power away from members.
``It's a tremendous victory,'' Biers said.
``It's also a victory that has implications for all union members
that are fighting to protect their democratic rights.''
The Laborers' union has long been accused
by critics of using pressure and intimidation to prevent dissidents
from wresting power from those in control. The international union,
threatened with a takeover by the U.S. Justice Department, agreed
to a series of internal reforms several years ago.
Leon Rosenblatt, a West Hartford lawyer who
represented Nobili and Local 665, said the agreement will force
the Laborers in Connecticut to inject a measure of democracy into
``It's the first time in the history of the
the Laborers where rank-and- file members have stood up to statewide
leadership, faced them square on and also beat them,'' Rosenblatt
said. ``The mere fact that the suit was brought was significant.
In the past, most members were afraid to do that.''
Nobili said changing the dues system is a
good start, but that additional reforms are needed at the union,
including giving members the right to vote on contracts.
``It's only a start,'' Nobili said. ``With
this union, it's only the tip of the iceberg, but it's only a
start. Some reforms had to occur.''
©_1998 The Hartford Courant