CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS SURFACE IN UNION BATTLE
LABORERS LOCAL FIGHTS TAKEOVER BY REFORMERS
By John O'Brien, Tribune Staff Writer
Web-posted Friday, November 28, 1997; 6:02 a.m. CST
An exotic dancer on the payroll of a labor union, put there by her boyfriend?
Another woman muscled by the mob and offered a $1,000 bribe to get lost?
Labor officials billing their expense accounts for thousands of dollars in meals dished out in fine restaurants?
In what could pass for spicy fare typical of daytime television talk shows, these allegations have surfaced in a heated internal squabble involving the Laborers International Union and one of its Chicago-area locals.
The outcome is certain to determine the future of Local 225, with about 2,000 members, led by John W. Galioto and headquartered in Des Plaines.
According to a complaint for trusteeship, submitted in a takeover move by the union's general executive board attorney, Local 225's leadership is corrupt, stifles democratic practices and spends money extravagantly.
Robert Luskin, the Washington, D.C., attorney who is overseeing reform efforts within the laborers union, identified some of the extravagances. Listed in this category was a $1,000 briefcase purchased for Galioto, an exotic dancer paid as a secretary, and meals and entertainment for officials at Gibson's restaurant and the Crazy Horse, a gentlemen's club.
For his part, Galioto, the local's business manager, dismisses the allegations as unfounded, twisted or part of an ethnic conspiracy. Galioto said that instead of being pilloried by Beltway unionists in Washington, his stewardship of workers in asbestos and lead removal, mattress production and security services should be applauded.
He also pointed to his recruitment of a black field organizer--a noteworthy achievement given the disparity of the union's many minority members and a handful of paid minority employees. Many of the 450,000 dues-paying laborers perform construction work.
That a battle is brewing over the takeover complaint is undeniable.
At a recent meeting, members of Local 225 approved an expenditure of $25,000 in legal fees to resist any attempt to remove officers. If necessary, another $15,000 could be tapped to pay lawyers, members agreed.
Galioto spoke in defense of management of the local, whose suspended president, Joseph P. Abate, is awaiting trial on gambling charges.
Union reformers led by Luskin have scheduled a hearing on their complaint in Chicago, starting the week of Dec. 15.
James McGough of Laborers for Justice and Democracy predicted the outcome will be watched closely by federal law enforcement officials. He said they are prepared to intervene if efforts to purge organized crime influence from the union fall short. Only last month, Laborers President Arthur A. Coia, in Washington, was accused by union inspectors of associating with gangland figures and allowing them to dictate to him.
According to the takeover petition, an exotic dancer named Jennel Totani, formerly employed at The Doll House, a dance bar, was hired by Galioto as a secretary for Local 225 and remained on the payroll until their relationship ended.
In addition, the petition, without listing dates and places, alleged that union funds were improperly spent for airfare and hotel stays for Totani.
As for the alleged bribe attempt, the petition charged that Mary Williams, a former member of Local 225's executive board, was offered $1,000 in cash to step down from the board.
The petition said Williams, a Chicago resident, was shouted down when she tried to raise the issue at a board meeting.
In an interview, Williams said that she was harassed and subjected to a demeaning literacy test when she persisted in bringing the money offer to public attention.
A union source confirmed the test was given, saying that it was intended to punish and ridicule Williams.
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