Michael Nelson's blog

Coia's Attorneys Meet with DOJ, Discuss Future

Representatives of the Laborers' Int'l Union of North Am. and the Justice Dep't met Oct. 6 to assess the union's future after Jan. 31, 1999 when DOJ's oversight of LIUNA is supposed to end. Michael S. Bearse, LIUNA's general counsel and New England labor lawyer, said this was the first in a series of meetings “to decide what happens next and understand each other.” The next meeting is Oct. 21.  Bearse said, the union would like to see “more arm's length supervision” from DOJ.  However, others outside LIUNA's inner circle have called for DOJ to take over LIUNA and oust the current leadership before DOJ's authority do due so lapses. Among the many reasons for a government takeover is the fact that Gen. President Arthur A. Coia, who DOJ said in its 1994 draft RICO complaint had “associated with, and been controlled and influenced by, organized crime figures,” is still running the union. [BNA 10/14/98]

House Probe of Teamsters, Ickes Moves Ahead

The House Education and the Workforce subcommittee began looking Oct. 6 into whether former U.S. Trade Rep. Mickey Kantor pressured a Cal. firm to settle a strike with the Teamsters in order to encourage campaign contributions from the union. Kantor, a long-time Clinton advisor, told a Rep. Peter Hoekstra's (R-Mich) committee that a telephone call he made at the request of then-White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes to Diamond Walnut Grower's former chief executive officer, William Cuff, didn't involve pending campaign donations. The probe is looking into allegations that Ickes served as a conduit between the administration and Teamsters. Presently, Attorney Gen. Janet Reno is considering appointing an independent counsel to investigate Ickes. A decision is expected next month.

Workers Win Dues Ruling

U.S. Dist. Judge Royce Lamberth ruled Oct. 1 that the Communications Workers of America failed to inform about 50,000 affiliated workers that they didn't have to pay full dues. Workers who pay a fee to the union for collective bargaining representation but don't become full union members were awarded damages in the class-action suit sponsored by the National Right to Work Foundation.  Any of the workers who didn't want to pay for work the union did outside of collective bargaining, such as political advocacy, from 1987-95 can request reimbursement for a portion of their dues. A NRTW foundation spokesman Stefan Gleason called Lamberth's ruling a "monumental decision on behalf of workers across the country. Not only will it allow these abused workers to exercise their rights not to pay for union activities that they object to in the future, but it will also allow them to be reimbursed for the abuses against those rights in the past." [A.P. 10/1/98]

Fawell Press Ahead with Reform Legislation

Rep. Harris W. Fawell (R-Ill.) announced Sep. 24 that he will introduce legislation to amend the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act prior to the adjournment of Congress next month. Fawell, Chairman of the Employer-Employee Relations Subcommittee of the Workforce Committee, said during the latest in a series of hearings on "impediments to union democracy" that he has come to the conclusion that the "goals" of the 1959 law, also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, "are not always reached."   The proposed legislation that is largely based on the recommendations of two leading experts on union democracy, Prof. Clyde Summers of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Herman Benson, founder of the Association for Union Democracy, who both testified at earlier hearings of the subcommittee. Fawell’s announcement came as he opened a hearing into charges that the rights of members of the approximately 200-member American Radio Association are being violated.

Hoekstra Turns Probe to DOL

In the ongoing Congressional probe of the tainted 1996 Teamsters election, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) is exploring claims that U.S. Labor Dep’t officials agreed to take action on the union's behalf in return for its support for President Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign. Hoekstra, Chairman of Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee of the Workforce Committee, has asked DOL Sep. 18 for documents relating to a Mar. 1995 meeting that he says was attended by Harold M. Ickes, former deputy chief of staff at the White House; Thomas Glynn, former deputy secretary of DOL; Steve Rosenthal, former associate deputy secretary of DOL; Ron Carey, disgraced former president of the Teamsters; and William Hamilton, disgraced former government affairs director of the union.  This request follows Attorney General Janet Reno's announcement that she has opened a 90-day preliminary investigation into allegations that Ickes lied in Senate testimony last year about his efforts to help the Teamsters in exchange for the union's support for Clinton's 1996 campaign (See: UCU 1.6 8/24/98). [BNA 9/21/98]

Bosses & Liberals Team-Up Again

The Wash. Post reported that a coalition of unions and liberal activists are planning to raise several million dollars to be spent on ads supporting President Clinton and accusing Republicans mishandling the probe at the “expense” of other issues. The liberal People for the American Way has plans for an aggressive air campaign attacking Republicans by focusing on Republican “overreaching.” Other interest groups, including the AFL-CIO, are reportedly  interested in sponsoring a campaign of strengthening Clinton in his battle to remain in office.  [Wash. Post 9/29/98]

QUOTABLE QUOTES
"This place is a cesspool of corruption. We’re trying to save the union before the District Attorney marches in and people get the wrong impression about the union, and everyone is branded a crook."

-Mark Rosenthal, a dissident leader in AFSCME Dist. Council 37 in N.Y. City [N.Y. Times 9/21/98].

Report Released on Corrupt New York Boss

Detailed charges against Charles Hughes, a prominent N.Y. City union boss who was expelled on Jun 26., were released Sep. 18. The Am. Fed. of State, County & Municipal Employees has long refused to release the sealed report, but a union official upset about corruption at AFSCME Dist. Council 37 leaked it just recently. AFSCME accused the 30-year boss of embezzling $1.7 million union members. Hughes’ conduct was described as “a vigorous effort to plunder his union’s coffers.” Experts told the N.Y. Times that the findings document one of the worst cases of union embezzlement in years.  No criminal charges have been brought, but the Dist. Attorney’s office is investigating.

Boss Sentenced for Embezzlement

A former Local 478 Teamsters boss in Newark, N.J. was sentenced Sep. 22 to 15 months in prison and ordered to pay $25,000 restitution for embezzling more than $30,000 from the union. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Joan Pribelzsky embezzled from the union’s general operating account and made false entries into the union’s books to disguise the thefts. She pled guilty May 1 to both charges. In Jun. 1994, Pribelzsky, without authorization, applied for a credit card under the union’s name and went on an 18-month shopping spree charging about $20,000 at places like Disney World, Victoria’s Secret and on the QVC channel, according court records. Pribelszky removed her charges from monthly statements so the union saw only their charges. She then had checks made out for false expenditures that she used to pay her credit card charges. She also stole $10,000 in cash of which $5,000 covered pending bankruptcy expenses.

Fifth, Charney, Pleads Guilty in Teamsters Scandal

The lawyer who represented the disgraced and expelled Teamsters President Ron Carey in his 1996 reelection pled guilty Oct. 1 to one count of conspiracy for making false statements to a court-appointed officer. It’s the fifth guilty plea, with one indictment, in the money-laundering scheme which funneled over $538,000 into Carey’s campaign. Nathaniel Charney, of the labor law firm of Cohen, Weiss & Simon, admitted in U.S. Dist. Court in Manhattan to lying to former election officer Barbara Zack Quindel about contributions and to concealing that two employers had sent his law firm checks for the Carey campaign. It’s illegal for employers to contribute to union candidates. Reportedly, Charney vetted contributions to a special fund that took donations from non-Teamsters. He faces 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He acknowledged in court that he is cooperating with prosecutors, which implies that more indictments are likely. [N.Y. Times 10/2/98] 

Kentucky Governor Linked to Union Indictments

Kentucky Democratic Gov. Paul Patton’s two top aides and two Teamsters bosses were indicted on charges of violating campaign finance laws in Patton’s 1995 election. The special grand jury indictments were unsealed Sep. 24 by a Ky. Supreme Court order. The named were: Skipper Martin, Patton’s chief of staff and 1995 campaign manager; Danny Ross, Patton’s labor liaison who ran a pro-Patton campaign for the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO between stints on Patton’s state payroll; Lon Fields, president of Teamsters Local 89 in Louisville, where Ross ran the campaign; and Robert Winstead, secretary-treasurer of Local 89 and recording secretary of the Teamsters’ state council, through which the national union paid for Ross’ campaign work. The four’s lawyers denied their clients broke the law.

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