Despite Year-Long Delay, Workers Want Promised Elections
By DEBRA PRESSEY
March 28, 1998
URBANA – Randy Perring says he's been waiting more than a year for his union to comply with an order to hold a new election of officers. And when Laborers' Local 703 emerges from its current tangle with the Laborers' International Union of North America, he says, he stands ready to run for election once again.
Same goes for fellow Local 703 member Jeff Bernett.
Both men were on the challenging slate when the local, representing about 750 construction workers in East Central Illinois, held its last election in 1996.
A hearing officer within the International overturned the election the same year and ordered a new one, based on what the International said was evidence it found that incumbent officers had blocked a fair election by intimidation and other tactics.
Perring, a Mahomet construction worker, ran against Local 703's business manager Jamie Johnson.
The younger Johnson had taken over the job from his father, Gene Johnson, less than a year before the election.
Both Gene Johnson and Jamie Johnson, along with some other top union officers, have been targeted in an ongoing investigation within the International.
The International is seeking to seize control of the local and run it under temporary trusteeship, charging it needs to restore a democratic process and correct various instances of "financial malpractice" within the local. Among the allegations is that some top Local 703 officers misused union funds for personal gain.
A hearing on that petition is expected to take place in about a month, and if the International is successful, it could be running Local 703 via trusteeship for 18 months.
Perring said it will be two years in May that he and others who challenged the last union election have waited for a fair election.
Bernett, also of Mahomet, said the wait could be much longer still, with the hearing ahead. "It could take a while," he added.
Bill Roe of Mansfield, who ran for president of Local 703 in 1996, says he's not sure if he'd run in the next election.
But Roe said he hopes people understand that nobody in the union has been charged with a criminal offense, and that the top union officers named in the International's petition deserve their day in court. "I guess Gene Johnson is innocent until proven guilty," he said.
Perring said he was surprised at some of the charges the International has brought concerning misuse of funds.
But he adds the consulting contract awarded to Gene Johnson at his resignation is partly what drove him to run for office himself.
The contract allowed Gene Johnson to collect full salary and benefits as a consultant after his resignation in August 1995, and guaranteed him $25,000 a year plus compensation for income taxes on that money after he actually retired nine months later, according to the International. He also retained access to the local's credit cards, the International said.
The International's General Executive Board said the consulting contract was arranged strictly to allow both Gene and Jamie Johnson to be paid full salary for the same job while installing the younger Johnson as business manager before the May 1996 election. "That's been bothering me from Day One," Perring said. "It had a lot to do with me running for office.
As far as I was concerned, enough was enough." Perring said he's got nothing against consultants, but the way he views a consultant, "you bring him in for a reason because he's got a specialty you need for a particular job."
"The way I look at is it is, when the membership voted in Jamie Johnson, if he was doing his job, we didn't need a consultant," Perring said. Perring, Bernett and Roe all stress Local 703 has a lot of good people who have contributed to the community.
Perring said he's confident that Local 703 can move ahead after its next election. "I'm hoping to get this behind us, and get business back on track," he added.