From the September-October
2008 issue of Union Democracy Review #175
More on labors lasting quest for ethical practices:
from the Operating Engineers
R. Zazzali, a former New Jersey State judge with many other impressive
credentials, has been selected by Andy Stern to preside over a mixed committee
of eminent citizens and SEIU officials charged with the task of developing
a code of ethics cogent enough to discourage SEIU representatives from
misappropriating union money. The question is whether it is fair to burden
him with so heavy a responsibility, one that could require intense concentration
and a heavy investment of time. The problem is that Judge Zazzali is already
occupied with his job as a staff member of the International
Union of Operating Engineers. Earlier this year, he was hired, or
retained, as the IUOE Ethics Officer to enforce its newly strengthened
Code of Ethics, which he had drafted. Fulfilling just that responsibility
alone could put anyone under an intolerable strain because there is so
much to do.
The IUOE Code, according to its International President
Vincent J. Giblin, "applies to the International Union, all locals
unions, all other subordinate bodies [etc] ...." Giblin himself received
$181,900 in salaries from Blue Cross, a union vendor. One would imagine
that an urgent task facing an ethics officer would be to decide whether
the code covers something like that. And a lot of other annoying matters
are probably piling up at the ethics officer's inbox.
IUOE Local 14 in New York City:
This crane operators local was accused in federal court of domination
by organized crime and has just agreed to oversight by court-appointed
monitors for the next five years.
Local 825 in New Jersey:
According to Jim Thomas, a retired operating engineer who keeps in touch
with members around the country, retired members of the 7,000-member Local
825 had been pressing Giblin for action against corrupt local officers,
but without success. But federal authorities were not inactive. In September,
former local president Peter Strannemar was sentenced to 27 months in
prison for taking bribes and for tax evasion. He and a colluding business
raked in $112,000. In October, Kenneth Campbell pleaded guilty of collecting
over $250,000 in bribes and of taking other thousands from the union treasury
for personal use. New Jerseys The Star-Ledger reported that he agreed
to the government's seizure of $200,000 that had been collected "to
finance his bid to be re-elected as the local's business manager."
He had also been an IUOE vice president.
Local 150 in Illinois and Indiana:
Two local members, Peter and Daniel Pena, are suing in federal court charging
that contractors paid $25,000 in bribes to local union representatives
to allow the company to underpay them and to cheat various union funds.
In September this year, the U.S. Labor Department sued to void the local's
2007 election of officers, charging that both union and employer resources
were used to support the incumbent slate. Election-related events fall
within the ethics officer's area of responsibility because the ethics
code requires the protection of members' democratic rights. Last year,
six local members charged that for 15 years, the former business manager
had forced the 125 employees of this 20,000-member local to kick back
$100 a month into his personal "Christmas Fund."
Local 3 in California: When
Dan Doser, former business manager of this 40,000-member local retired
in 2004, he took miscellaneous payments ---"severance" and others
--- variously estimated as $750,000 or $625,000. The payments triggered
a two-year battle in the local over whether the payments were justified
and whether they were properly authorized. A 60-page lawyer's report concluded
that the objectors were mostly correct, leading to a change in local administration
and a local court suit against Doser which dragged out until 2007, when
he was ordered to repay $500,760, including interest; he forfeited $925,313
in future pension benefits. These events transpired before Zazzali was
appointed, but he might feel it prudent to keep an eye on the local. (Local
3 was a prime suspect in the 1957 McClellan hearings.)
With all that on his desk, Zazzali has to keep his
mind on his new SEIU obligations. It would be instructive if he would
report on how the IUOEs new ethical code helped him address some
of these ethical problems in that, his own, union.
A new reinforced SEIU ethical practices code would
add to the store of codes that are proliferating in the labor movement.
As a growth industry, codes came to attention back in 1957 with the now-forgotten
Ethical Practices Code. The UAW, AFSCME, the Laborers and others that
don't immediately come to mind have excellent codes. When Brian McLaughlin,
then New York City Central Labor Council president, was caught stealing
hundreds of thousands of union and others dollars, the council decided
to come up with a code of its own. Vincent Giblin writes about his own
IUOE code, "Ethical behavior essentially comes down to a matter of
common sense." This multitude of codes adorns common sense in party
clothes wrapped in holiday ribbons. Not homilies in codes but enforcement.
That will be Zazzalis real challenge.
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