by Sherie Winston, Engineering News-Record, 9/28/98

The Jan. 31, 1999, day of reckoning is looming for the oversight agreement between the laborers' union and the U.S. Justice Dept. under which the union is supposed to rid itself of organized crime influence. A mid-term report card to Congress claims success with the ouster of 189 people from the union as part of the internal reform effort.

The three-year pact was signed in February 1995 and extended for an additional year last January. Union officials will meet in October with DOJ lawyers to assess the reform program's progress and determine what "ought to happen next," says laborers' General Counsel Michael S. Bearse.

One key issue is whether the union will continue to operate under the threat of a consent decree. As part of its initial agreement with DOJ the union can be placed under government receivership if it does not carry out reforms to the government's satisfaction. Internal reforms will continue because they have been made a part of the laborers' constitution, says Bearse.

The 189 individuals have been removed from the union's ranks for criminal or ethical violations or ties to organized crime. About 75 were removed this year through convictions, terminations or suspensions, the union says.

Charges and complaints also have been filed against another 132 individuals, including 30 this year, for alleged wrongdoing. Some of these allegations focus on individual members or officers while others are aimed at broader patterns of misconduct by the union's district councils or locals. Earlier this year, the Chicago district council was placed under a trusteeship.

As the reform program continues, it has become obvious that corruption is more concentrated in certain parts of the country and is not systemic, says Bearse. Resources have been focused where there is the greatest need. New York and New Jersey top the list.

The union has made "extraordinary strides," claims Robert D. Luskin, the union's general executive board attorney responsible for prosecuting members for instances of corruption uncovered by the independent inspector general. In a recent letter to a national newspaper, Luskin asserts that of the union officials identified in a 1994 Justice Dept. draft racketeering complaint as members or associates of organized crime, only laborers' President Arthur A. Coia remains in any position of responsibility. "Every other individual named by the government in 1994 has left under the threat of charges, agreed in writing to leave the union permanently or has been forcibly removed through the disciplinary process," says Luskin.

Last November, Luskin brought disciplinary charges against Coia who was grilled over several months this spring in front of an independent hearing officer. A decision by the hearing officer, Peter F. Vaira, a former director of the President's Commission on Organized Crime and a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, is expected as early as November.

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