8/19/08

Corrupt NY Carpenters get more oversight

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Labor-state union proves difficult to clean-up

Citing continued corruption, a federal judge has ordered a one-year extension of government oversight of the New York City carpenters’ union, which has spent 14 years under supervision.

Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. of Federal District Court in Manhattan pointed to widespread off-the-books work and the bribery convictions of several shop stewards in ordering the extension in a decision issued on Friday. Under the government’s supervision, Judge Haight and an independent investigator oversee the union.

The union, the New York City District Council of Carpenters, which represents 25,000 carpenters, had asked Judge Haight to end the supervision, saying that the union was no longer under the influence of the Genovese crime family. The union signed a consent decree in 1994 agreeing to court-appointed supervision after federal prosecutors filed a civil racketeering lawsuit alleging that organized crime figures held sway over the union and assigned mob-linked workers to high-paying and no-show jobs at many sites, including the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

The carpenters’ request to end supervision was undercut last week when a dissident candidate in a union election was harassed and assaulted at a candidates’ forum that was held in the auditorium of a Catholic school in Manhattan.

According to witnesses and accounts provided to the union’s independent investigator, the candidate was beaten unconscious outside after the meeting on Aug. 5 by a group of men who had been yelling during the forum.

On Monday, in response to the assault, Judge Haight issued a memorandum urging union leaders to ensure that there would be no more beatings at candidates’ forums. He also directed the union and the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan to inform him of the results of a Labor Department investigation into the attack.

Judge Haight rejected the union’s assertion that the standard for ending court-ordered supervision should be whether mob control of the union had ended. The judge, accepting the arguments of the United States attorney’s office, instead concluded that the standard should be whether all forms of corruption and labor racketeering had been eradicated.

Judge Haight cited federal criminal cases brought against the construction contractors On Par, Boom Construction and Tri-Built, which prosecutors said had saved on wages and benefit payments by employing carpenters off the books, with shop stewards often being bribed to turn a blind eye to the practice. The contractors paid far less into the health and pension funds than they were supposed to, prosecutors said.

Judge Haight wrote that the shop stewards and other union officials “played vital roles in facilitating, enabling or abetting the employers’ fraud” by failing to supervise job sites or keep track of hours worked.

The judge also noted that rank-and-file carpenters had reported serious corruption earlier this decade. Investigators later found that out-of-work political supporters of union leaders were frequently allowed to jump the job-referral line and were assigned jobs before many carpenters who had been out of work longer.

In asking that supervision be continued, the United States attorney’s office cited a “culture of corruption that continues to impede efforts to fight that corruption.”

But Judge Haight accused federal prosecutors of “hyperventilation” about the extent of corruption. He wrote that the “outer and visible signs of organized crime influence have been significantly reduced” and that the union officials and Genovese family members involved in corruption in the early 1990s have “departed.”

He said he took the advice of William Callahan, the union’s independent investigator, who said an important test for ending the supervision was that the union “will be able to police itself without court and government supervision.”

Judge Haight concluded that this was not the case. “The record,” he wrote, “makes clear that massive job-site corruption was taking place from the 1990s through 2006.” He also pointed to a recent indictment alleging that the Genovese family had the ability to manipulate the district council, local unions and certain contractors through early 2004.

While praising the union’s reforms, including changes in the job-referral system, the judge wrote, “It is too early to tell whether recent reforms will achieve the purpose of showing whether the union can police itself without supervision.”

He also asked whether the union’s internal culture could change so that rank-and-file carpenters would no longer be scared to speak out about corruption.

“The district council must demonstrate that the union’s efforts to combat corruption have reduced the frequency and scope of corrupt practices to the extent that this court is convinced that the union and its constituent locals can adequately police themselves, without further government involvement and court supervision,” Judge Haight concluded. “At the present time, the district council has not made that showing.”

The assault last week on the dissident union candidate, William Davenport, undermined the union’s assertions of a change in its internal culture. Mr. Davenport, according to several accounts, was heckled when he spoke at the union meeting, which was attended by about 500 members. Despite the presence of two retired police detectives hired to maintain order, a group of men stood up in the front rows and screamed, according to one longtime union dissident who was there.

“It was disgraceful — thugs took over the meeting,” said the dissident, Eugene Clarke, a member for 49 years. Mr. Clarke, who did not see the assault, said the group yelled insults at Mr. Davenport and threw a roll of toilet paper at him when he was on the stage.

When candidates running on the slate of an incumbent, John Greaney, spoke, the crowd was less raucous, Mr. Clarke said.

In a separate decision issued on Friday, Judge Haight rejected the United States attorney’s request to replace Mr. Callahan as the independent investigator.

The government said that Mr. Callahan had not been aggressive enough in unearthing corruption. But Judge Haight said he was satisfied with Mr. Callahan’s performance saying that Mr. Callahan, like his predecessor, Walter Mack, was working diligently to ferret out job-site corruption.

Judge Haight said corruption had declined, thanks in part to Mr. Callahan and Mr. Mack, but too much remained. For that reason, he chose to extend Mr. Callahan’s term for two years.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Mr. Callahan called it “an important decision that reaffirms our credibility.”

(gangbox.wordpress.com)

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