Chicago Tribune


Mike Dorning, Washington Bureau

January 21, 2000


The U.S. Justice Department will loosen oversight of the Laborers International Union, but the union will continue federally mandated anti-corruption reforms for at least six years under an agreement announced Thursday.

The agreement removes the threat of a federal takeover of the union, though the Justice Department will be able to go to court to assure compliance with the reforms through Sept. 30, 2006.

However, the union's Chicago District Council, allegedly an epicenter of organized crime influence, will remain under the control of a federal trustee for at least two years.

A federal civil racketeering lawsuit against the Chicago District Council filed last summer described alleged connections between the union hierarchy and 21 Mafia members and associates. On the day the government unsealed the lawsuit, the union agreed to a consent decree that installed a federal trustee over the district council, settling the suit.

Faced with the threat of a racketeering indictment in 1995, the international union agreed to an out-of-court settlement calling for direct election of union officers, anti corruption reforms and changes in hiring hall practices. At a Justice Department news conference, Asst. Atty. Gen. James Robinson said the reform program removed 226 people from union posts, including 127 with alleged organized crime ties.

Among those the Justice Department accused of mob ties and who have since left the union is its former president, Arthur Coia, who resigned Dec. 31.

The international union also joined the Justice Department in its civil racketeering lawsuit against the Chicago District Council. That, too, was settled out of court. But federal prosecutors demanded a federal trustee take over the Chicago council.

"I think we've put a mechanism in place to make sure the union will represent the members," said Scott Lassar, U.S. attorney in Chicago.

The Laborers Union has more than 800,000 members nationally, mostly in the construction, environmental cleanup and maintenance industries.


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