New York Daily News

Laborers Union Turns to Ickes

Tom Robbins
Monday, April 12, 1999

Harold Ickes, the former White House aide now advising First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on a possible New York Senate run, has again signed on to help the Laborers union.

Officials of the union - which is under federal monitorship because of alleged past corruption - said they are paying $20,000 for Ickes' help with the Federal Aviation Administration, which is considering a Pataki administration plan to let a private firm run Stewart International Airport.

The airport, in Newburgh, is state-run. Union officials fear that under privatization, airport contractors will slash construction wages, now covered under federal prevailing wage rates. "When we had to go deal with a federal agency, we figured [Ickes] was a good one to go with," said Todd D'Orio, an official of Laborers Local 17. "Supposedly he has some political influence."

On the eve of becoming White House deputy chief of staff in December 1993, Ickes signed a $40,000 contract to represent a Laborers union fund. Ickes said he personally did no work for the union and signed the agreement only because he was head of his law firm's labor division. But at the time, the union was facing a Justice Department probe of alleged Mafia ties, and leaders feared a government takeover similar to that imposed on the Teamsters.

Laborers President Arthur Coia gave speaking invitations to Hillary Clinton, a custom-made golf club to the President and shepherded $3 million to the Democratic National Committee.

Records show Coia also wrote to Ickes about presidential politics.

Things broke Coia's way in 1995 when the Justice Department settled a lawsuit, allowing Coia to remain as president and police his own union's cleanup. Last month, an internal union review cleared Coia of corruption charges, although federal prosecutors criticized the findings, and a federal grand jury in Boston is still looking into his ownership of a $450,000 Ferrari.

After Ickes left the White House in 1996, he rejoined his old firm, Meyer Suozzi English & Klein, which has continued to represent the Laborers, mainly through former state labor commissioner Tom Hartnett. Ickes said it was Hartnett who asked "to see if I could arrange a meeting with people in Washington" about the airport. Asked who the meetings were to be with, Ickes replied: "I don't want to tell you."

Meanwhile, New York City Laborers officials, who are working overtime to try and dig out from decades of mob corruption, moved last week to merge three locals representing waste-recycling and maintenance workers.

Locals 445, 958 and 970 will be merged into a new Local 108 with some 3,000 members. Heading the new unit as interim business manager is Michael Hellstrom, who has been a spark plug of new Laborers organizing in the past two years. Two of the three locals - 445 and 958 - were notorious for being friendlier to employers than members, signing low-wage, sweetheart contracts, often without member knowledge, according to labor investigators.

One such deal signed by Local 445, said Hellstrom, was with Golden Mark Maintenance. The firm's recent takeover of cleaning operations at a midtown mall has sparked demonstrations by another union, Building Services Local 32B-J. "This is a new day for the laborers in this jurisdiction in this city," said Hellstrom.

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