New York’s King Benova Dethroned

The union world is abuzz with the amazing news that a dissident lawsuit has ousted one of America’s highest paid union bosses. AFL-CIO boss John J. Sweeney’s successor, Gus Benova was paid well over $400,000 a year to run the Service Employee Int’l Union Local 32B-32J. On Feb. 1, Benova ended his 18 year reign that began when Sweeney was elected to head SEIU in 1981. Benova has been dogged by allegations of a lavish lifestyle, authoritarian rule and possible mob ties, but his resignation came as part of a civil suit settlement brought by dissidents Carlos Guzman and Dominick Bentivgna. [N.Y. Times, N.Y. Post 2/2/99]

Top SEIU boss Andrew L. Stern — who himself has corruption questions stemming from his role in the Teamsters money-laundering scandal — imposed an indefinite trusteeship over the local. On Feb. 8, SEIU opened Benova’s union-funded SoHo penthouse to the media. The palatially high-tech palace “had enough marble to empty a quarry” and was  dominated by lavish rosewood furnishings and a stainless-steel kitchen.  [N.Y. Times, N.Y. Post 2/9/99]

Additionally, Benova “received” a $1.5 million golden parachute upon retirement. But N.Y. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said Feb. 4 that his office will investigate the severance package.  He called the payoff an “outrageous use of union funds” and “could be a significant abuse of union dues.” [Daily News 2/4/99, BNA 2/5/99]

AFL-CIO Sweeney Double-Dipped in Benova’s Local
In addition to boss Gus Bevona’s $ 1.5-million golden parachute, SEIU Local 32B-32J has also paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to its ex-boss, now the AFL-CIO’s head, John J. Sweeney, according to an exclusive report by Newsday.  Sweeney left the local 1981, but he continued to draw funds from the local until 1994. According to the U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Sweeney received $80,000 in 1989 & 93, $70,000 in 1990, 91 & 92, and $10,000 in 1994.  Then while campaigning for AFL-CIO president, the funds conveniently ceased. The payments to Sweeney show how it is commonplace for bosses to double-dip: collecting large sums from  local and parent union. [Newsday 2/4/99]