Chicago Tribune

 

Local loses bid to stop takeover by its union

 

 

By Stephen Franklin and Matt O'Connor

Tribune staff reporters

 

March 5, 2004

 

A federal court judge refused on Thursday to hold off the laborers union's takeover of a large Chicago local identified by a union hearing officer as riddled with organized-crime influences, financial wrongdoing and undemocratic practices.

 

Attorneys for Local 1001, which represents nearly 2,800 workers for Chicago's Streets and Sanitation Department, had asked Judge Robert W. Gettleman to block temporarily the Laborers International Union of North America from installing a trustee over the large and influential local.

 

In a blistering 87-page report on the local handed down earlier this week, union hearing officer Peter Vaira called for the trusteeship, saying "there is a preponderance of evidence that Local 1001 continues to be infiltrated by organized crime."

 

Vaira, a former federal prosecutor, also said the local had paid pension and health and welfare benefits to 33 persons "who were not salaried employees" and who had no right to the benefits. At the same time, it failed to make the required pension and welfare contributions for office and secretarial staff, Vaira said.

 

Vaira described the local's record of no contested elections in the last 30 years as "the natural outcome" of its organized-crime ties.

 

Attorney Matthias Lydon, representing Local 1001, said the claims of organized-crime ties and financial malpractice were outdated. Union officials "are really talking about people who were booted and are gone," Lydon said after the court session. "This is a new leadership."

 

While acknowledging that the local's nine top officials have all held leadership roles before, he said they "didn't have positions of the same responsibility."

 

As for the benefits payments, he said the local had initiated the practice in the 1960s as a way to reward non-salaried union officials. "It wasn't something [local officials] instigated. It was something they assumed was appropriate," he said.

 

To prevail in its bid to block the takeover, Gettleman said, Local 1001 attorneys had to show that the hearing officer's conclusions were wrong or arrived at improperly.

 

"That's a very high burden," he said. "It's a burden for today's proceedings that I don't think you have met."

 

Vaira's call for the union's trusteeship followed an investigation carried out by Robert Luskin, the attorney for the union's General Executive Board.

 

Jim McGough, head of a Chicago-based dissident group within the laborers union, said the union's action "was long overdue. It should have been done 25 years ago."

 

Officials at the union's Washington, D.C., headquarters declined to comment on the takeover effort.


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