Las Vegas Review-Journal

Wilhelm May Head Hotel Union

The Las Vegas-based labor leader is mentioned as a possible successor to the HERE president.

By Hubble Smith


Friday, May 15, 1998

John Wilhelm, who was instrumental in adding 22,000 members to the Culinary union in Las Vegas, may be in line to head the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International Union in Chicago.

A court-ordered monitorship of the union by the U.S. Department of Justice ended in March with no corruption charges against its officers, according to the Bureau of National Affairs, an information service in Washington, D.C.

Union officials are now sayingEdward Hanley, general president of HERE, may announce his retirement as early as Monday's executive board meeting, Business Week magazine reports in its latest edition.

The magazine mentions Wilhelm, secretary-treasurer of HERE International and the No. 2 man in the chain of command, as Hanley's likely successor. Wilhelm said he has "no idea" about Hanley's plans to retire.

"Whatever plans he has are his plans, and he'll announce them when he's ready," Wilhelm said Thursday from HERE International headquarters in Washington. "I don't want to comment on any of that."

Wilhelm, who has worked for HERE for 28 years, was elected secretary-treasurer of the union at the 1996 convention, and Hanley was re-elected as president. The terms are set for five years.

"There's no immediate line of succession in our constitution," Wilhelm said. There must be an election if a general officer resigns.

The hotel and restaurant employees union, parent of the Culinary, has been an organizing leader for the AFL-CIO, which has experienced declining membership as a percentage of payrolls since 1954. A spokeswoman for AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said he was unavailable for comment on the story.

Wilhelm was previously one of 24 elected vice presidents of the international union. He was assigned the job of Western regional director by Hanley in 1987 to work with Culinary Local 226 in Las Vegas when Jim Arnold was elected secretary-treasurer and chief executive officer.

The Culinary's membership grew from 18,000 to 40,000 since then. "A lot of people did a lot of work to do that," Wilhelm said.

HERE was one of four unions, including the Teamsters, accused of having strong ties to the Mafia by the 1986 President's Commission on Organized Crime. The Justice Department claimed that Hanley gained the top job in 1973 with help from Chicago mob figures.

"Edward Hanley was elected president of HERE International Union in 1973 on the power and influence of (Joey) Aiuppa, (the underboss of the Chicago Syndicate) and the Chicago mob," the Justice Department reported in 1977. "Ed Hanley represents the classic example of an organized crime takeover of a major labor union."

The federal monitorship of the union was imposed under the terms of a consent agreement approved by the U.S. District Court for New Jersey in 1995.

Under the agreement, Kurt Muellenberg, a former chief of the Justice Department's organized crime and racketeering section, was empowered to conduct investigations and impose discipline on union members for violations of federal law.

Despite an "extensive and exhaustive" investigation, Muellenberg found no significant evidence of wrongdoing, HERE said.

Carl Biers, executive director of the New York-based Association for Union Democracy, criticized the oversight process.

"My feeling is this has really been a failure," Biers said in the Bureau of National Affairs report.

"They may say they removed some associates of organized crime, but they have done nothing to democratize the union. Without creating a foundation for reform, it will be very easy for racketeers to get back into the union."

A loose alliance of union reformers calling themselves HERE To Insure Chicago (HERETIC) was particularly critical of Muellenberg for failing to be more aggressive in the monitorship.

"Our point all along has been that this guy was the Maytag repairman monitor -- he didn't do anything," said Jonathan Palewicz, a HERETIC spokesman and member of Local 2 in San Francisco. "Probably 95 to 97 percent of the membership doesn't even know he exists. He hadn't made a dent in the water. He has done nothing in terms of reform, democratization. He's made no changes in any local that we know of. It's been a nothing burger, zip."

While the court-imposed monitorship has expired, HERE will still be under the scrutiny of an internal reform process that will be conducted by a three-member Public Review Board.

The board will receive complaints and conduct hearings relative to alleged violations of the union's code of ethics.

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