NYC DA Makes Deal with Union Bosses Over Campaign Violations

Manhattan Dist. Attny. Robert Morgenthau has agreed not to prosecute NYC union officials for reportedly forcing workers to use their personal work and leave time to campaign for mayoral candidate Mark Green.  Under the deal, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees Intl. Union will have to hire an outside expert on local election laws.  But it is unclear how much power the expert will have.  Critics of Local 32BJ president Michael Fishman said that the outside legal experts would have the power to make sure the officials do not break election laws in the future.  But one union official insists that the law firm to be hired would only serve as a monitor and adviser to the Local hierarchy.

Paul Pamias, a dissident member of 32BJ who first alerted authorities to the forced politicking, was “outraged that the union does not have to admit guilt and that no…union officer is being indicted.”  In a letter to Cong. Charlie Norwood (R-GA), Pamias reported that “the many staff and members who were forced to ‘volunteer’ by taking vacation days and personal days to campaign will not be compensated.”  Pamias asked Cong. Norwood to convene a hearing on the case in the House Subcmte. on Workforce Protections, which Norwood chairs.

According to several grand jury witnesses, employees under the thumb of the city’s largest private sector union were forced to work for 2001 Democrat candidate Mark Green during working hours.  Many workers were also forced to use personal leave days to work on the Green campaign.  And a memo copied to Local 32BJ Vice President Kevin Doyle ordered all union staff to fill out a “personal day off or vacation request form” for Oct. 11, when Green faced Fernando Ferrer in the primary.  Doorman Willie Vargas, who also worked as an organizer for the union, supported Ferrer, but was forced to work for Green.  “It was plainly stated that if you want to get anywhere in this place, this is how it is,” he said.

In addition to the reports of forcing employees to do political work, the union also appears to have illegally spent regular union funds, as opposed to political action cmte. money, in support of Green.  Internal documents obtained by Morgenthau’s office show that in 2001, the union spent $781,874 on political activities, incl. $126,000 in contributions, $161,659 for member mobilization, $118,596 for membership mailings, $59,982 for buttons and T-shirts, and $35,976 on consultants.

Dominick Bentivegna is challenging Fishman for the union presidency this September.  “I believe in a political program,” he said.  “But not one that is going to drain our treasury, and it should be voluntary.” [The New York Times, 6/9/03: New York Daily News, 6/8/03]