Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Shop Talk: To trustee or not?

By Jim McKay, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Sunday, July 16, 2000

The Laborer's International Union of North America is conducting an internal hearing over whether a trustee should run a Pittsburgh local whose officers are accused of being influenced by organized crime.

The prosecution -- led by the office of LIUNA General Executive Board attorney Robert D. Luskin -- presented its case for a trustee at Local 1058 during closed proceedings last week.

Local 1958, which opposes imposition of a trustee, is expected to make its defense next week following a recess for preparation, union spokesman Zack Matus said.

Luskin, who is responsible under the union's internal reform program for the prosecution of disciplinary actions, filed a complaint against the local last March saying a trusteeship was necessary to restore democratic practices.

The complaint alleged that the local's leadership has strong ties to organized crime in the Pittsburgh area and that that influence has gone unchecked for decades.

The local defended its actions as fair and democratic and accused Luskin of working with the federal government to deny its members rights to free speech, association and representation.

Joseph LaQuatra, a longtime union officer named in the complaint, has retired as business manager of Local 1058 and as business manager of the Laborers District Council of Western Pennsylvania. LaQuatra could not be reached for comment.

Matus, however, said LaQuatra's retirement does not change the allegations. He said a decision on trusteeship would be made at a later date by Peter Vaira, an independent hearing officer.

Making money

Statisticians at the U.S. Labor Department annually put pen to paper and calculate the average wages of Greater Pittsburgh's hourly workers. This year the reckoning came to $15.91.

The government surveyed 312 firms in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties that employ 556,800 people for the calculations, which are based on rates paid last July.

White-collar workers earned an average wage of $18.75 per hour and accounted for 56 percent of those surveyed. Blue-collar workers, representing 24 percent of those surveyed, earned an average $14.04 per hour. Service workers earned $9.85 on average and made up the remaining 20 percent.

Among blue-collar workers, those belonging to a union averaged straight-time earnings of $15.56 compared with $11.80 for nonunion workers. Truck drivers averaged $13.24 while stock handlers and baggers made $9.38 an hour.

White-collar occupations include registered nurses at $19.44, secretaries at $12.80 and general office clerks at $10.83. Service occupations include janitors and cleaners at $11.22 per hour and nursing aides and orderlies at $9.38.

Another move to Mexico

The Seton Company, a leather manufacturer for the automotive industry, is moving to eliminate 400 of 1,000 jobs at its factory in Saxton, Bedford County, and move production to a newer facility in Mexico.

The New Jersey-based company told the state Department of Labor and Industry that 189 employees will be dismissed from the plant's leather-cutting department by Aug. 4. The remaining job cuts are expected by October.

Seton in May permanently closed a cutting operation in El Paso, Texas, that employed 100. The company said in a statement that the layoffs were "necessitated by the industrywide shift to offshore manufacturing" by its competitors and customers.

Human resource director Carol Gedman said production will move to a two-year-old "start-up" plant in Mexico. Seton also has plants in South Africa, Argentina and Hungary.

Bette Slayton, director of Bedford County Economic Development, said Seton will remain a significant employer with 600 workers."They're good manufacturing jobs," she said.

Collecting dust

Mine operators would turn over responsibility for collecting coal mine dust samples to the government under a proposed overhaul of the system for controlling black-lung disease.

"This gets away from the fox-guarding- the-henhouse problem," Davitt McAteer, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, said of the proposed changes.

Miners and their advocates for years have charged that companies failed to accurately measure coal dust or that they doctored samples to meet government standards.

A vote for refining

Production and maintenance employees at the American Refining Group Inc.'s plant in Bradford vote Thursday on whether to join Pittsburgh-based Local 95 of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

About 119 employees are eligible to vote. American Refining purchased the plant in 1997 from Witco Corp.

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