Among practitioners of labor violence, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 17, based near Buffalo, N.Y., has to rank as among the most obnoxious. The evidence of crime proved convincing enough for a federal jury last month to convict former local president and business manager Mark Kirsch on various racketeering-related charges. Yet the same jury in the six-week trial also acquitted four other defendants. Prosecutors alleged that all five union members were involved in repeated acts of vandalism of nonunion construction sites and terror against nonunion contractors and workers. The case had sprung open in 2008 with the indictment of a dozen persons, several of whom eventually pled guilty. While union leaders and their lawyers are cheering the outcome, it is unlikely the local can resume its mobster style of enforcement.
Former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis readily admits it: She's a union woman. But her affinity with organized labor is more than just a matter of shared views. On February 10, the Cerritos, Calif.-based Hews Media Group revealed that Solis, now campaigning for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, had accepted thousands of dollars worth of free private jet travel more than five years ago, while still serving in Congress, from International Union of Operating Engineers Local 12, but without disclosing these trips, as required by federal law. This finding is cited as a material fact in a federal civil racketeering suit filed in January by four members of the Pasadena-based local against some two dozen people.
On October 1, Ronald Martin, former bookkeeper for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 9, was charged in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado with embezzling funds of an unspecified amount from the Denver union. The charge follows an investigation by the Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
The National Labor Relations Board ought to be about the last place to find anyone with a history of union corruption. But Richard Griffin (see photo), an NLRB member and former general counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), may be the exception. Griffin last October was named as a defendant in a federal racketeering suit filed by 10 members of IUOE Local 501 in Los Angeles. The complaint alleges Griffin, during his tenure representing the international union, was complicit in a "scheme to defraud [the local] out of revenue, cost savings and membership." Dozens of union members, the suit charges, engaged in kickbacks, bribery, threats and extortion.
Sandra Jungbluth may have done her boyfriend's bidding, but she now has to pay the price. Last June 8, Jungbluth, an accountant for a consulting firm that handles benefits for a Wisconsin affiliate of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), was sentenced in a state court to three years of probation for embezzling more than $450,000 in union funds over nearly a decade and forging the signature of a company vice president. As a condition for probation, she must serve eight months in jail. Jungbluth had been charged in February 2011 and pleaded guilty in December of that year. She also will have to make restitution in the amount of $459,000.
On October 1, Ronald Witt, former business manager of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 450, was sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to one year and a day in prison, and three years of supervised release, for embezzlement from the Houston union. He also was ordered to pay $198,333.10 in restitution and a $100 special assessment. Witt, along with his wife, Anita, had been arrested and indicted in July 2011 for stealing more than $150,000 from the local's general and job training funds. He pleaded guilty this January. The actions follow a joint probe by the Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards and Employee Benefits Security Administration.
On January 19, Ronald Witt, former business manager of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 450, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to one count of conspiracy from the Houston-based local. Witt and his wife, Anita, had been arrested last July on charges of embezzling more than $150,000 from the local's general and job training funds, and forging financial records to conceal the thefts. He originally had denied all allegations, claiming he had receipts that would exonerate him and his wife. The actions follow a joint investigation by the U.S. Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards and Employee Benefits Security Administration.
Sandra Jungbluth had a chaotic domestic life. But that wasn't a sufficient excuse for ripping off the union whose benefits she handled. On or about last December 8, Jungbluth, formerly an accountant for a firm managing benefit funds for the Wisconsin state affiliate of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), stated her intention to plead no contest to stealing more than $450,000 in union funds over some nine years. She allegedly had forged the signature of a company vice president. As part of a plea agreement, two of the three charges in the criminal complaint would be dismissed, but considered by the judge at sentencing. She faces up to five years in prison, plus five years of supervised probation.
Labor unions in this country for nearly four decades have operated with a grant of near-immunity from the consequences of intimidating employers and non-joining workers or destroying their property. An ongoing federal racketeering and extortion case against upstate New York's International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 17 is underscoring how readily union attorneys rationalize their clients' "right" to terrorize. The case has taken on an added significance in light of legislation recently introduced to close this loophole, a product of a misguided Supreme Court ruling. Even more noteworthy, one of the attorneys for the local is a former law partner of Mark Pearce, the latter recently becoming chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). It's a small world.
Ronald and Anita Witt enjoyed the good life, especially luxury cars and trips to Hawaii. They're now facing a potential trip to prison. On Friday, July 8, Mr. and Mrs. Witt, respectively, business manager and financial secretary of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 450, were arrested by U.S. Marshals and charged in Houston federal court that day with embezzling more than $150,000 from the union's general fund and job training benefit plan, and forging records to conceal the thefts. The couple also faces a civil suit filed by the Houston-based local on April 21 alleging "$750,000 in unlawful expenditures." Ronald Witt denies all criminal and civil allegations, claiming he has receipts that will exonerate him and his wife.