By ELLIOT BLAIR SMITH
June 20, 1993
FIGHTING MAD: Violence that including chair throwing breaks out Saturday in Santa Ana after the election for leadership of the Laborers International Union local. Opponents of the winner plan to protest the results to the National Labor Relations Board.
LABOR: 'Matchy' Duarte gets a sixth three-year
term, but his foes plan to appeal the election results.
SANTA ANA-A bitter union election struggle
ended Saturday in a bloody brawl, but Marcelino "Matchy"
Duarte - longtime boss of the Laborers International Union, Local
652-emerged with his leadership intact.
Duarte, 61, garnered just 34.9 percent of
2,066 votes cast. But angry union rank-and-file members-predominantly
Mexican-American construction workers whose jobs and benefits
are disappearing amid the recession- divided their votes among
Duarte's leading opponent, foreman Crispin
Perez, immediately vowed to appeal the results to the National
Labor Relations Board. Perez backers alleged before the vote was
final that 138 union members-nearly equal to Duarte's margin of
victory- failed to receive ballots.
Duarte declined to comment.
Immediately after his victory, which brings
with it a sixth three year term, Duarte was hoisted onto the shoulders
of his cheering supporters and ushered out of the union hall at
1532 E. Chestnut Street as violence erupted.
Scattered fistfights, which had threatened
to break out all day, quickly intensified into a chair-swinging
melee that left one Duarte supporter, Rudy Ruvalcava, 32, splattered
with his own blood.
Perez's backers alleged that eight deceased
union members were mailed ballots, though election judges offered
assurances that none were cast.
"In the past dead people have voted.
Today we haven't run into any," said Ralph Flores, 40, who
ran on Perez 's electoral slate and finished second in the race
for union president. That positon is largely ceremonial. Nearly
absolute power is vested in Duarte's position as union business
manager. Duarte directs regotiatrions with contractors, oversees
job assignments, and, in the 15 years of his stewardship, has
controlled $38.2 million in union membership dues.
Critics say Duarte squandered the union's
wealth in prosperous times, leaving its treasury nearly depleted
in recent lean years.
During the voting, Ruvalcava had jeered the
opposing electoral factions, saying, "If they really wanted
Matchy out, they would have gotten one slate together. But they
all want the same position."
And Perez, 55, noted: "We all know what
needs to be done. We're all losing."
Former Duarte aide Luis Holguin, 52, who
in April broke with his boss after a 15-year relationship and
ran a close third, said beforehand, "I'm hoping if Matchy
wins he'll open up his eyes that we want things to change around
Local 652 is one of Orange County's oldest
and largest labor unions. Last year largely Hispanic drywall workers
initiated organizing efforts in their part of the construction
industry, but those efforts were unrelated to Saturday's activities.
During the campaign, Duarte pledged that
he would cut his $103,140 salary by 15 percent bringing it to
pre-recession levels. But that doesn't address related allegations
by his union foes of absenteeism and excess at a time when about
540 active union members are out of work.
Duarte, who arranged Saturday for a mariachi
band to play "El Rey" ("The King") even before
the election results were known, is alleged by union foes to spend
increasing amounts of time away from the union hall at his second
home in Cabo San Lucas.
Meanwhile, many rank-and-file members, facing
long-term dislocation from the work force, identify themselves
by their by their page number on a lengthy job- wait list.
"Anybody who goes against the system
doesn't work," said David Hernandez, 59,who in 1978 was ousted
as the union's leader by Duarte. Hernandez now is unemployed and
on page 23 of a 30-page waiting list. Each page lists about 18
"In the past, the system doesn't
work," dead people have voted. Today we haven't run into
any." RALPH FLORES
Opponents of Duarte say he has maintained
his power base by developing strong loyalty among young, new members
who are willing to accept lowerpaying jobs. He also maintains
a disciplined political organization that has withstood its stiffest
And, it seems, Duarte still relishes a good
At a union meeting in January, one of his
frequent hecklers, Sergio Estrada, 51, passed out fliers depicting
the union boss with green eyes and dollar-signs through the pupils.
Duarte, after demanding to see the flier, invited one of Estrada's
more vocal supporters to a fistfight at the podium.
"And the man threw haymakers like he
should have been fighting for our rights," Estrada recalls,
"but he was missing by a mile. "