by Sherie Winston, Engineering News-Record,
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