November 24, 1993
Members of a Laborers Union local who lost
an election that ended in a brawl may get a new election.
The U.S. Department of Labor has sued the
Santa Ana local after some rank-and-file members accused the local's
officers of stealing the June election. The government alleges
in its lawsuit that union leaders did not mail election notices
and ballots to some members and used outside help to win reelection.
It asks that a federal judge order another
The union's lawyer says that, if there are
violations of federal labor law, they are trivial and -- in one
case unintentional, and do not justify a new election.
The lawsuit means that Marcelino (Matchy)
Duarte -- who has run the county's oldest Latino union for 15
years -- could face another election in the coming months.
The union is a political and economic power
in Orange County's large Latino community, and the rebellion at
Local 652 has been closely watched there and in local labor circles.
The Laborers' International Union of North
America represents mostly relatively unskilled manual laborers
who do "pick and shovel" work on construction sites.
It also includes maintenance workers and landscapers. For 20 years,
the union local has been a springboard to the middle class for
In the June election, the three men who ran
against Duarte for the office of business manager together got
more votes than he did. But because they split those votes, Duarte,
61, won a sixth three-year term with just a third of the 2,000
Duarte did not return a phone call Tuesday.
But Crispin Perez, one of his election opponents,
said, "I feel great" about the Labor Department action.
Perez and the two other challengers accused
Duarte and his officers of corruption. With jobs scarce during
the recession, they say, Duarte favors supporters when handing
Those supporters, Perez and others say, then
vote to keep him in his $107,000-a-year job.
Since the election, Perez said, the revolt
has lost steam. But the federal lawsuit may stir it up again,
The suit alleges several very specific violations
of federal labor law. It does not address the broader allegations
of corruption raised by Duarte's opponents.
A trial date has not been set. The suit was
filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Nov. 1, after the
union's top leaders in Washington turned down an appeal by the
Such lawsuits are somewhat unusual. Last
year, the Labor Department investigated 175 union elections nationally
after the losers complained, but it sued in only 24. (An additional
23 were settled before lawsuits were filed.)
During the election campaign this spring,
Duarte's supporters used a phone bank at a Westminster community
center for the elderly run by a group called Abrazar Inc. The
Labor Department contends that the outside help in the election
was a violation of labor law.
The union says it paid not only for its own
phone calls but for Abrazar's as well during the two months it
used the community group's phones.
The second monthly bill -- for less than
$500 -- was misplaced for a while, said Julius Mel Reich, the
union's lawyer. But the bill was later paid with 6% interest,
Abrazar confirmed that account.
"They more than paid the bill -- they
overpaid," said Gloria McDonough, the community group's executive
"I don't understand this lawsuit,"
she said. "Maybe the Department of Labor doesn't have a whole
lot to do."
As for the union not mailing ballots or notifying
members of the election, Reich said, it didn't have valid addresses
for some members. Others, he said, weren't eligible to vote anyway
for reasons like not having paid dues.
What's more, Reich said, fewer than 100 of
the local's 4,000 active and retired members were not notified
or mailed ballots.
Because only three of the races for union
offices were closer than 100 votes, Reich contends, only those
elections are affected. But the Labor Department alleges that
the number was larger -- and that the union should have tried
harder to reach these members.
Meanwhile, the dissidents have hired their
own lawyer, Francisca N. Araiza.
They say they, too, will sue Duarte and the
union for what they allege are misuse of union funds and favoritism
in handing out jobs.
The union denied those allegations during
the election campaign and said they were made up by disgruntled
When the votes were tallied at the union
hall in June, a chair-throwing brawl erupted between the two sides.
Police were called several times, but no arrests were made.
Recently, persistent rumors have circulated
-- even among officers high in the union -- that Duarte has tired
of the hassles and will retire, perhaps by April.
Reich, the local's lawyer, said he had not
heard the rumors and could not comment.