REFORMERS, LEADERS AT ODDS OVER LABORERS UNION OUSTER
By Stephen Franklin,
Tribune Staff Writer.
September 3, 2000
The recent ouster of a union-appointed trustee for Laborers Union Local 2 has stirred controversy between officials and reformers within Chicago's historically corruption-ridden Laborers Union.
Joe Romano, a veteran official from the United Steel Workers union, was removed two weeks ago as head of the 1,200-member Laborers local by the union-appointed attorney in charge of its own cleanup effort.
Though Romano's backers said his outspoken efforts to reform the local prompted his ouster, union officials in Chicago and Washington insist that he had failed to do his job, and the local needed someone with roots in the Laborers Union.
Romano, who could not be reached for comment, is featured prominently in an article in Sunday's Tribune Magazine on labor unions in Chicago and their efforts to reform themselves as they reach out to new members to halt their longtime decline.
In the article, Romano voiced his criticism of the union's reform efforts.
Romano "challenged the whole scheme of things to the point that they couldn't accept it," said Ed Sadlowski, a former United Steel Workers official from the South Side with a history of rank-and-file involvement, who served until recently as supervisor for Laborers Local 5.
A close ally of Romano, Sadlowski complained that the current heads of Chicago's 25,000-member Laborers were eager to remove Romano because they "don't want reform."
But Frank Riley, president and secretary of the Laborers'
District Council, insisted that Romano was removed because "he just didn't have the knowledge and expertise to do" the job.
Romano was replaced by Randy Dalton, the head of Laborers Local 681, because the local needed someone to "integrate it" with the Laborers' District Council, said Robert Luskin, an attorney in Washington, D.C., who has overseen the union's reform efforts.
In 1994 the U.S. Justice Department confronted the Laborers Union with findings that the union had been under the thumb of Chicago-based mobsters since the 1920s and gave the union the option to clean itself up or face a government takeover.
The union accepted the government's offer and began cleaning house. In Chicago, the union appointed new officials to run Locals 2, 5, 225 and the District Council, a loose umbrella group for the union's 21-area Chicago locals. Today, only Local 2 remains under union-appointed leadership.