Engineering News-Record

Union Faces Hill Scrutiny

By Sherie Winston

June 17, 1996

In recent weeks House Republicans have turned up the volume on their questioning of a 1995 settlement between the Justice Dept. and the Laborers' International Union of North America, claiming it was brokered by President Clinton.

They plan two hearings this summer to explore persistent allegations of ties between labor unions and organized crime. But the laborers' union sees the GOP effort as election-year politics. And union President Arthur A. Coia is fighting back in black and white.

In response to the call for hearings, the union was expected to run a full-page ad June 12 in Washington newspapers challenging the House Republican leadership.

The message: While welcoming the spotlight on efforts to reform the union, officials object to the "blatantly partisan campaign to discredit the oversight agreement because of our endorsement of President Clinton."

If the GOP is serious about holding an objective hearing, it should be conducted after the November election, the union claims.

It also plans briefings for lawmakers and staff "to explain the genesis of the oversight agreement," its impact on union members and the progress made in the last year.

The call for hearings is "pure partisan politics," claims a union spokesman. "Clearly this is an attempt to embarrass Clinton," adds a Democratic strategist with union ties. Coia has contributed to President Clinton's election efforts and his legal defense fund.

In the face of the November election, the GOP also is concerned about the AFL-CIO's rejuvenated political activism, says one source.

Despite Coia's and the union's support for Clinton, the White House had nothing to do with the settlement, says one source.

As part of the three-year, internal reform plan agreed to in the settlement, the union is revamping its election process in time for its September contest (ENR 2/12 p. 10). Coia has not formally announced his intentions, but is expected to seek reelection.

The first hearing, planned by the House Human Resources and Intergovernmental Relations Subcommittee, was slated for June 13, but was postponed until July.

The panel, chaired by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), was expected to review efforts by the Labor Dept. to keep organized crime out of the labor movement. Shays is responding to a report by the department's inspector general that notes the "emerging nontraditional organized crime groups that adversely affect the workplace."

The rescheduled session will focus on Labor Dept. oversight and the government's future strategy.

A second hearing, also expected in July, is being pushed by Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.), chairman of the House crime subcommittee.

A McCollum aide declines to elaborate on the focus of the hearings. Union insiders assert once the panel's investigators begin researching their claims, they will find no basis for hearings.

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