Los Angeles Times



February 2, 1994

The controversial leader of a big Laborers Union local, Marcelino (Matchy) Duarte, will not face a new election.

The federal Department of Labor Tuesday conceded that it could not prove Duarte and other union officers received outside help in their election.

It was a smashing victory for Duarte, 61. The Labor Department had originally demanded that all 11 officers of Local 652 stand for election again.

Now only two lesser officers must rerun the June election, which ended in a brawl at the local's Santa Ana offices between dissidents and Duarte supporters.

"I'm angry, but what can you do?" said Crispin Perez, who ran against Duarte for the $107,000-a-year job of business manager. "I'm out of words right now."

The local has helped hundreds of Mexican immigrants move into the middle class with relatively unskilled construction jobs as laborers on roadways and buildings.

It is a political and economic power in Orange County's Latino community, where this fight for control of the local is being closely watched.

Perez and other dissidents accused Duarte of intimidating union members during the election or bribing them with promises of jobs.

The Labor Department said it investigated and rejected those allegations.

Instead, the department thought it could prove two more specific allegations: that the union hadn't notified perhaps as many as 150 members about the election and that Duarte's supporters used the phones at a community center for the elderly in Westminster run by Abrazar Inc. during the election -- but never intended to pay the two resulting phone bills of more than $400.

Had the Labor Department proved that Duarte's supporters didn't intend to pay the bills, it could have forced new elections for the local's 11 offices. But the lawyer handling the case said the Labor Department -- after talking to Duarte's lawyer -- concluded it couldn't prove the allegation it had made in a lawsuit just three months ago.

"The union actually didn't pay one of the phone bills until after the investigation started," said Assistant U.S. Atty. John H. Lee. "But we would have had a difficult time proving our case."

"Sour grapes," said the union's lawyer, Julius Mel Reich. The candidates didn't pay the bill immediately, he said, because it was misplaced.

As for the other allegation in the lawsuit, the union agreed in settling the suit that it had not mailed ballots to 98 members of the 4,000-member local.

The local agreed to hold elections for two offices that the victors won by less than 98 votes -- third auditor and vice president, both in the second tier of the union's hierarchy.

A federal judge must now approve the settlement.

Meanwhile, Perez and the other dissidents have hired their own lawyer. The lawyer has asked to intervene in the lawsuit and will probably try to block the settlement.

Lee, the government lawyer, said the Labor Department had no choice but to concede defeat when it found it couldn't prove the allegation about the phone bills.

"This settlement," he said, "is something the Labor Department and the local can live with."


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