Court’s Help Sought In Union Vote
Challenger says he can’t get a fair election
By Bruce Ramsey
July 25, 1996
A challenger has taken the Seattle and Alaska local of the International Union of Operating Engineers to federal court, asking for intervention in the election for business manager.
“I believe I can’t get a fair election with these people,” said the challenger, Val Albert.
Local 302 is contesting the unusual request under the Landrum-Griffin Act 1959. The matter is to be decided by federal Judge Carolyn Dimmick in Seattle.
At stake in the election is the job heading one of the Seattle area’s largest unions. Based in Bothell, the Operating Engineers have 9,900 members and hiring halls in Bothell, Wenatchee, Yakima, Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks; they represent workers who operate bulldozers and cranes at city and county engineering departments, road districts and scores of contracting companies.
The job, now held by Larry Johnson, also includes a seat on a 1.5 billion Taft-Hartley pension fund, and seats on other, smaller health, welfare and training funds. Albert had the job in 1988, the second time he ran for it, but lost it in 1990 to Johnson. They had a rematch in 1993, and Johnson won handily.
Albert’s vote total that year was 160, compared with 2,450 for Johnson. Albert didn’t believe it. He complained to the international union, got no support, and complained to the U.S. Department of Labor, citing an excessive number of ballots. The Labor Department replied that all the ballots were properly accounted for, and that there weren’t enough of them to overturn Johnson’s victory, anyway. It declined to prosecute.
Albert said the Labor Department investigator was going to sample the voters but didn’t. So Albert said he did it himself. Out of about 2,500 letters delivered, he got back 400 that said they had voted for him.
The Labor Department declined comment on the case.
In his complaint to the court, Albert is asking that Local 302 be ordered to hold the election at a neutral place; that an accounting firm other than the existing one, Lokitch, Clements & Rice, be retained; that it tabulate the ballots in some way other than by computer; that observers for all sides be present when ballots are counted; that counted ballots be immediately sealed; and that the court appoint an independent observer.
Albert, who has worked as a crane operator since losing his post as business manager, has been aided by his campaign manager, Galen Cook. Cook, who was a member of Local 302 during the Alaska pipeline years, said he is just finishing law school at Seattle University’s Tacoma campus. It was he who urged Albert to file a lawsuit.
Johnson said Albert “has not taken part in this local since he lost the election in 1990. He has only showed up in the meetings where we have held nominations for business manager” He added that Cook “has not been a participant in Local 302 for quite a while.”
At issue in the campaign is the union’s new headquarters building in Bothell. Albert said the hall cost $6 million has been 60 percent empty and was followed by a doubling in the basic rate of dues.
Johnson said the union had outgrown its old quarters at Western Avenue and Clay Street, and that the new building had been approved by the membership. For the first time, he said, the union has its own auditorium, space that is empty most of the time but is busy on weekends and is sometimes rented out.
Johnson said the dues went up because operating expenses had gone up, and the union had been subsidizing dues out of it Alaska pipeline wealth for 20 years. “It has nothing to do with the construction of the building, because we paid cash for the building,” he said. He put the total cost of land and buildings a $3.7 million.