Monday, April 12, 1999
Harold Ickes, the former White House aide
now advising First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on a possible New
York Senate run, has again signed on to help the Laborers union.
Officials of the union - which is under federal
monitorship because of alleged past corruption - said they are
paying $20,000 for Ickes' help with the Federal Aviation Administration,
which is considering a Pataki administration plan to let a private
firm run Stewart International Airport.
The airport, in Newburgh, is state-run. Union
officials fear that under privatization, airport contractors
will slash construction wages, now covered under federal prevailing
wage rates. "When we had to go deal with a federal
agency, we figured [Ickes] was a good one to go with," said
Todd D'Orio, an official of Laborers Local 17. "Supposedly
he has some political influence."
On the eve of becoming White House deputy
chief of staff in December 1993, Ickes signed a $40,000 contract
to represent a Laborers union fund. Ickes said he personally did no work for
the union and signed the agreement only because he was head of
his law firm's labor division. But at the time, the union was facing a Justice
Department probe of alleged Mafia ties, and leaders feared a government
takeover similar to that imposed on the Teamsters.
Laborers President Arthur Coia gave speaking
invitations to Hillary Clinton, a custom-made golf club to the
President and shepherded $3 million to the Democratic National
Records show Coia also wrote to Ickes about
Things broke Coia's way in 1995 when the
Justice Department settled a lawsuit, allowing Coia to remain
as president and police his own union's cleanup. Last month, an
internal union review cleared Coia of corruption charges, although
federal prosecutors criticized the findings, and a federal grand
jury in Boston is still looking into his ownership of a $450,000
After Ickes left the White House in 1996,
he rejoined his old firm, Meyer Suozzi English & Klein, which
has continued to represent the Laborers, mainly through former
state labor commissioner Tom Hartnett. Ickes said it was Hartnett who asked "to
see if I could arrange a meeting with people in Washington"
about the airport. Asked who the meetings were to be with, Ickes
replied: "I don't want to tell you."
Meanwhile, New York City Laborers officials,
who are working overtime to try and dig out from decades of mob
corruption, moved last week to merge three locals representing
waste-recycling and maintenance workers.
Locals 445, 958 and 970 will be merged into
a new Local 108 with some 3,000 members. Heading the new unit
as interim business manager is Michael Hellstrom, who has been
a spark plug of new Laborers organizing in the past two years.
Two of the three locals - 445 and 958 - were
notorious for being friendlier to employers than members, signing
low-wage, sweetheart contracts, often without member knowledge,
according to labor investigators.
One such deal signed by Local 445, said Hellstrom, was with Golden Mark Maintenance. The firm's recent takeover of cleaning operations at a midtown mall has sparked demonstrations by another union, Building Services Local 32B-J. "This is a new day for the laborers in this jurisdiction in this city," said Hellstrom.