Chicago Tribune


By Rob D. Kaiser

Forwarded By Jim Howard

May 25, 1999

Attorneys representing the laborers union seized control of a Chicago local Monday, almost two weeks after that local's president was ordered out for allegedly having organized-crime ties. Local 2 was put in "emergency trusteeship," meaning the Laborers' International Union of North America will replace the union's elected leaders with its hand-picked successor.

The local union's temporary trustee will be David Schippers, a Chicago defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor who served as the chief investigative counsel for the House Judiciary Committee during President Clinton's impeachment hearings. "We've had a number of things happen that are even shocking to me," said Dwight Bostwick, one of the attorneys representing the laborers union who has handled similar cases.

The local union hasn't had contested elections since John Matassa Jr. took control of the organization in the mid-1980s, Bostwick said. He alleged the local--like the union's Chicago District Council, which was put in trusteeship last year--held elections that were "little more than a game of mob musical chairs."

The union attorneys also charge Local 2 has been corrupted by organized crime for more than a decade under Matassa's leadership, and the union's executive board failed to protect its membership and "engaged in financial malpractice" by paying Matassa's own defense lawyers to investigate whether their client had ties to the Chicago mob.

Matassa's lawyers couldn't be reached for comment.

A hearing on the trusteeship will be held within 30 days, and the union's attorneys are talking with local union leaders about turning over keys to the local's building and information about its bank accounts, Bostwick said. "It's the most dramatic measure we can take," Bostwick said. "We feel

an emergency trusteeship is absolutely necessary to purge Local 2's leadership of its mob connections and to restore democracy."

The 1,200 members of Local 2, based at 6608 S. Archer Ave., work on underground projects such as sewers and tunnels.

Matassa was ordered out of the local union May 12 after a hearing in December. The case against Matassa alleged he met frequently with members of the mob and that those connections caused him to fail to fulfill his union duties.

Members of Local 2 have complained that the stigma of having their union tied to organized crime has hurt their standing with private industry.

Union members tried to hold a vote to voluntarily put the local under supervision, but the union leaders wouldn't allow the vote to take place, Bostwick said.

The union's leaders have gone so far as to change the locks on the doors at the union hall, said Jim McGough, a spokesman for the union reform group Laborers for Justice. "What's tremendously encouraging about this was that Local 2's

membership was rising up and speaking for themselves," Bostwick said. "And ultimately what's discouraging about it is that they were not allowed to exercise their democratic rights. We feel like we've got to step in to assure they can be heard."

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