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From the March-April 2007 issue of Union Democracy Review #167

Mob ousted, reformers win in ILA Local 1588

By Kurt Richwerger

On April 19, the election of officers in the 450-member Longshoremen's Local 1588 in New Jersey --- the first since it came under federal court trusteeship --- brought into office an executive board and top leaders without mob ties. A group of eight reformers, running unopposed on a "Unity, Power, Respect" slate, take over a local union that, just six years ago, was called "corrupt from top to bottom" by Assistant U.S. Attorney V. Grady O'Malley.

After a round of indictments in 2002, a federal trustee was appointed by a U.S. District Court judge. Speaking of the days under mob control, Jorge Aguilar, a 19-year ILA veteran and newly elected Local 1588 Warehouse Vice President, told the Newark Star Ledger, "Every once in a while you'd find out somebody got assassinated ...the only copy of the contract was kept in the union office and you didn't want to ask for a copy." He said that since the trusteeship had been imposed in 2003, "You see more democracy and folks are more willing to speak."

Bennett Baumer writes in The Indypendent that "Local 1588 members greeted the government trusteeship with suspicion at first, though most agree it kept the mob away and allowed reformers to emerge." What is remarkable --- and encouraging --- about the outcome of this election is that it demonstrates that, with effective monitorship, a mobbed-up local union can be returned to the membership.

Summing up twenty years of federal monitorships over unions dominated by racketeers, Professor James Jacobs writes, "A few have clearly been successful; most have achieved no more than limited successes; many have utterly failed." So far, Local 1588 has been one of those rare successes, but only because federal authorities have, in this case, brought together a rare combination of individuals who seem to know what must be done.

Robert McGuire, the former NYC police commissioner who was appointed trustee by the judge, hired Robert Stewart as his assistant. Stewart had been the federal prosecutor who helped get rid of the mob family that ran Teamster Local 560 in New Jersey. They brought in Carl Biers as education director to help conduct the union's daily business. Carl came armed with years of experience as a union organizer and as executive director of the Association for Union Democracy. Their efforts were bolstered by a group of local rank and file reformers; Tony Perlstein, just elected local secretary treasurer, is the co-chair of the Longshore Workers Coalition, a national ILA reform caucus. That combination of experienced law enforcement authorities determined to replace the mob, a dedicated union democrat, and organized rank and file reformers was able to break through the weight of decades of organized crime control.

But we have reached the end of only one chapter, not the end of the story. The trustees will continue to monitor the local for the next 18 months. At some point federal control will be lifted. The mob has not disappeared or surrendered; it is only in retreat and waiting. Local 1588 is only one small local in an international still dominated by a suspect officialdom. With the end of federal trusteeship, local reformers are wary of retaliation from above. And so, in Local 1588 as in the international, the battle for reform will continue.

Audio Exclusive: Hear Carl Biers describe the effort to oust the mob and build a democratic union.

Other articles on the ILA:
A formidable force for reform in the ILA
Steelworker battles for democracy in ILA L. 2038
(7/09-8/09)
Mob ousted, reformers win in ILA Local 1588(3/07-4/07)
In the ILA: rank-and-file action, government intervention, and a major legal victory (7/06-8/06)
Feds file suit vs rackets in ILA(7/05-8/05)
Battling corruption in the ILA: a partial chronology
(7/05-8/05)
Reform movement spreads in ILA (12/04-1/05)
Longshore workers nearly reject master contract (9/04-10/04)
Question and Answer: RICO monitorship in ILA? (9/04-10/04)
Who will police the Longshoremen's ethics code? (1/04-3/04)
ILA Baltimore local threatened with trusteeship (5/03-6/03)
Nine years without a contract in ILA Lake Charles Local (3/03-4/03)
Reformers win majority in harbor workers local 333, ILA (8/9 2002)
AUD at Charleston ILA meeting (News 4/02)
Charleston Longshore unions win major victory
2/3 2002
"Charleston Longshore workers lead battle for reform." 8/9 2001
Links to Longshore worker websites
Information and resources for ILA members on this website.

 

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