Part II:

An Exclusive Interview

Laborers Reform Duo: Will They Clean Up Corruption?

Laborers honchos come calling.

In the last issue, we began the story of the laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) and its historic agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. That agreement aims to rid the Laborers of Mafia influence and end corruption and unfair hiring practices.

At the request of LIUNA General Executive Board Attorney Robert Luskin, the senior editors of Hard Hat met with Luskin and W. Douglas Gow, the LIUNA Inspector General in San Francisco on July 21.

Hard Hat: Mr. Luskin, why were you brought in as outside counsel, distinct from the regular legal office of the union?

Luskin: Bob Connerton, the union's general counsel, received the government's draft complaint back in early November 1994. The Justice Department said they regarded Connerton as a material witness to many of the events that are set forth in the complaint and believed he should excuse himself. The union then looked for outside counsel to assure the Justice Department that the major decisions would be made by people who did not have a long history with them because they were suspicious of people who had been around a long time.

HH: Is that a reasonable suspicion?

L: Before I took the job, I read the fifteen civil RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) cases against LIUNA, and the record was 15 and 0 against LIUNA. A lot of what is in the government1s draft complaint is incontrovertible. There is a record of 80-some convictions over the years of being associated with organized crime.

HH: Are you saying that there are elements of the Mafia, or the Mob or organized crime or whatever you want to call it, still in the structure of the union?

L: At various levels, no question about it.

HH: What about the connections between Laborers General President Arthur Coia and President Clinton?

L: There is absolutely no truth to any suggestion that the agreement we reached with the Justice Department was influenced in any way by political considerations. Clinton had nothing to do with this. It was done in the Justice Department. This is not a brokered resolution.

HH: Aren't the government people who signed the complaint Clinton appointees?

L: Yes, they are Presidential appointees. You are absolutely right.

Clean-up or Whitewash?

HH: The money for your office comes from the union, so the people that you are investigating are also your employers. Isn't that a conflict of interest?

L: If the moment came when somebody says to me or to Doug Gow, "Don1t do that," or "I don't think it1s a good idea," or "Don't go down on that guy, " then I'm out the door and Doug's out the door and the government pulls the plug about fifteen minutes later.

Gow: And I have said that publicly.

L: And I have told that to the General President.

HH: Didn't the initial government recommendation include the removal of General President Coia, because of his reputed connection to organized crime?

L: The government's draft complaint did ask for Coia1s removal, among other people.

HH: Based on organized crime contact?

L: Or nonfeasance. They accused him of both association with organized crime and nonfeasance. After we began our discussions with the government, we said to them fairly early on, "Give us your proposal for resolving this in the form of a consent decree. " That document, which was their proposal, came to us in early December. It changed around, somewhat, and asked for the removal of union vice presidents Samuel Caivano and John Serpico, and general counsel Robert Connerton, but not Coia. So I think it1s fair to say we traded Coia for Caivano and Serpico. That was the government1s first proposal to us. We have looked at things in the draft complaint and part of what we are doing will include following through everything there to determine whether or not it is credible. We will follow it where it leads us. If it's in the newspapers, if it's in the draft complaint, we will follow it up.

Publish the Facts

HH: How do you explain your settlements with Caivano and Serpico as part of the clean-up effort?

L: I think the settlements with Caivano and Serpico were completely in the best interest of the union. I am constrained somewhat because the settlements included confidentiality clauses, but I'll say that you start by removing people who have been identified with wrong elements. You need to understand that there is a limited amount that I can do: I can't put anybody in jail, I have limited civil recovery and it is only under very narrow circumstances that I can do anything to anybody's vested pension rights. If the worst La Cosa Nostra guy, who is a union officer, has a pension that is vested, and I can't prove that he stole from that pension fund, there's not a goddam thing I can do except kick him out of the union.

HH: Why did your settlement include confidentiality if it protects these guys from prosecution?

L: If the government wanted to prosecute them, the confidentiality agreement absolutely did not preclude my cooperation with that. The confidentiality covers my public discussion of the cases. We have told the government at every step of the way what we were doing in those investigations; we offered to share that information with them. What is not going to happen, ever, is that we discover an offense and we say to the guy, "Will you please quietly resign from the union and we promise not to turn this information over to the FBI. " Absolutely not, that will not happen. There will never be a deal resolving a disciplinary matter that will involve some promise not to turn over information to prosecutors. I will not do that.

HH: Then the confidentiality keeps the information only from the members.

G: After the hearings, there is a public docket in the LIUNA secretary-treasurer1s office that they can turn to for review. That's open to every member.

HH: Will there be a record of these cases published in The Laborer magazine?

L: Do you think it would be a good idea if we were to publish names and details of closed cases?

HH: Yes.

L: All right. This is a good idea. In the future, I will enter into no agreements that seal the disciplinary record and I will publish closed cases in The Laborer. I think it's an excellent suggestion.

G: I have a monthly column and I am prepared to devote a section of it to reporting closed cases.

HH: If members of the Laborers Union are making calls to you and they are not reading about people going to jail, people getting thrown out of the union, or people being charged for criminal matter, they are not going to trust you.

G: I don't think it is quite as bad as you think it is. In the first hearing that I appeared before, there were over 100 members of that local present. So the word certainly is going to get out. At each of our hearing, it is open to the members to come to that hearing, so they are hearing and seeing some of those things.

Trusteeships: A Double-Edged Sword

HH: Your goal, I hope, is not simply to put a few individuals out of their positions. RICO is a powerful tool because it goes after a pattern of corruption. If you can get the thugs away from the door long enough, the rank-and-file can clean up their own unions.

L: What we can use, which is even more powerful than RICO and court injunctions, is the power of trusteeship. That was done in the Mason Tender case and we are looking at two or three other circumstances. The people who are allegedly involved with organized crime have already figured out succession. "Vito, if you go in the can, Rocco takes over as business manager. " In that case, we are looking at trusteeship and not just individual prosecutions.

HH: Trusteeships have historically been a problem as well as a solution. They have been sometimes put in place by corrupt leaderships in order to prevent democratic reform of locals, district councils and even state organizations. Are all the trusteeships under your jurisdiction?

L: We will be responsible for the new trusteeships. If the suggestion is made to us that some particular trusteeship that is in place is improperly motivated, then we have the power to assume responsibility over it.

Scope of the Investigation

HH: Are you only going after Mafia involvement?

G: No.

L: Things which have been keeping us wildly busy are things that are not organized-crime related, but are just as goddam serious.

G: We have 200-plus cases open, cases involving business managers, misuse of funds, operations of hiring halls procedures. Of the 200-plus, around 60 are hiring hall violations. Hiring halls are our biggest complaint. We are very concerned about not being used ourselves: somebody calling in to disrupt procedures during election time, to cast aspersions on individuals. We have a lot of sorting out to do as we get these calls to determine the veracity of the complaint. One technique we use is to conduct a limited investigation to determine if a full investigation is warranted.

HH: Someplace between the opening of an investigation and the closing of a case, there must be a way to put some information out there to the members. What I would suggest is when you bring charges, it is fair to name the charged parties.

L: I will give it some thought. I will consider opening up the disciplinary process at an earlier stage. I am not constrained by the rules one way or the other.

The New Hiring Hall Rules

HH: The hiring hall is the single most significant factor in the control of the union local by the union officials in that local. If all the jobs go out through the front door, you've got an honest hiring hall and you have the seeds of real democracy in that local because you don't have control of the votes by someone who controls the employment situation. What steps are you actually taking to insist these model rules go into effect?

G: We are looking at what the District Council does to monitor that to ensure fairness. We have seen that condition and I have a number of investigations going addressing exactly what you said.

L: If somebody applies the local rules in a way that discourages the exercise of someby's rights within the union, that1s a violation of our ethics code and that will be charged.

HH: Are the new hiring hall rules something that all the locals are required to follow or not?

L: The rules govern exclusive halls. Where the rules are not contrary to state law or the existing collective bargaining agreement, they are the law.

HH: I suggest you put that in The Laborer in clear terms, including the definition of an exclusive hiring hall.

L: We'll do it. My understanding of an exclusive hall is where the contractors can't hire people out of the bargaining unit on his own.

HH: Where any local is not carrying out the new hiring hall, would the leadership of that local be in violation of the rules?

L: It is a resolution adopted by the General Executive Board.

HH: So the members of a local where this is not being implemented can bring up their officials on internal union charges?

G: They call us and we look into it. We have been as responsive as possible to these charges. I have sent people out to see if the rules are posted, to inspect the books, talk to the membership. It is turning out that a significant proportion of our cases have to do with the hiring hall. Everything you say is exactly true. It didn1t take us too long to figure that out.

L: How we respond to situations that don't comply is going to depend on how it comes up. If somebody calls up and says, "Screw you, we1re not going to adopt the new rules, " we are going to take one kind of posture and if we have to, we will trustee that entity.

HH: Is the posting of the hiring hall rules part of the requirement of the rules?

L: Yes.

Will Members Get the Vote?

HH: Are you investigating election irregularities?

G: Yes.

HH: Will election hearings be public so members can attend?

L: Maybe we ought to suggest to [LIUNA Independent Hearing Officer] Peter Vaira that for election protests and trusteeships, locals be directed to post notices.

HH: The people that you are investigating are the people that run the local. Would they post the notice?

L: If they don't post it, it is a violation of the order of the Independent Hearing Officer.

HH: How about requiring that it be sent to all the Laborers Union members?

L: No. I am going to try and think about posting first.

HH: Shouldn't the notice of fraud in the election go to all the members who have potentially been defrauded?

L: I have assumed here that the people who are most interested in bringing the problems to light are the complainants in the election protest. They get notice.

HH: One part of the consent decree that nobody is talking about is the direct election of international union officers.

L: What people are talking about right now and about which something will be done in the next month, is election reform. What has got to happen, and what will happen at a minimum, is that there will be some, if not complete, regionalization of the vice presidents.

HH: You mean direct election of the vice presidents?

L: I am saying, to start with, regional vice presidents, leaving aside how the voting takes place. I am saying the direct election issue is open.

HH: The unions where there have been changes of leadership are the unions that went to direct elections: Mineworkers---direct election of international officers; and the Teamsters---direct election of international officers. Has there ever been an international union where major reform took place without going to direct election of international officers?

L: Not that I know of.

One-Job Contracts, Expenses & Nepotism

HH: Do you see anything suspicious in a series of one-job agreements given to selected contractors?

L: It is not something that has been raised to us as a problem. We will look at it.

HH: Do you think $450 a day per person per diem [expense payments] for union officials and their wives is a bit excessive?

G: $450 a day?

HH: Yes.

L: Sounds like it merits scrutiny.

HH: Are you concerned with the appearance of nepotism [hiring of relatives]?

G: Yes.

L: People ought to get their positions based on merit.

HH: Thank you both for your time.


Luskin and Gow promised Hard Hat that the Laborers reform plan will:

  • Investigate all charges in the government's draft complaint.

  • Examine suspicious trusteeships to see if they are improper.

  • Place locals in trusteeship that refuse to abide by the hiring hall rules.

  • Enforce posting of the hiring hall rules in the local union halls.

  • Bring charges against union officials when hiring hall rules are used to discourage members' rights.

  • Open hearing dockets to all union members, through the secretary-treasurer's office; no sealed records.

  • Publish the results of closed disciplinary hearings in The Laborer.

  • Publish the legal meaning of hiring hall terms, such as "hiring hall " in The Laborer.

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