January 11, 2012 | Commentary on Labor
Mike Quigley says he’s “a union guy, and I’ll be one ‘til the day I die.”
But in 2007, Quigley, a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers IUOE) Local 150, which covers much of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, was fed up with the corruption he felt pervaded his local.
So he teamed up with an insurgent candidate to unseat Bill Dugan, Local 150’s longtime president and business manager. Quigley created a rudimentary website to document the malfeasance of the local’s leadership under Dugan.
But IUOE headquarters stepped in, passing a rule that forced all candidates to password-protect their campaign websites, allowing access only to union members and barring the general public.
Quigley, who spoke with me about his experience, says the rule, upheld by a federal court in 2009, unquestionably contributed to his campaign’s failure to unseat Dugan, though he admits “it’s something you can’t prove.”
The rule “makes it difficult for a lot of guys to speak up,” he explained.
Three years later, Dugan was indicted for violations of federal labor law and sentenced to three years probation. Quigley’s inability to spread his message more widely helped cement the status quo at Local 150, and he insists the same thing “happens in every single election” at IUOE locals nationwide.
Pushing the rule that contributed to the failure of Quigley’s challenge was Richard Griffin, then the IUOE’s general counsel, who was just appointed by President Obama to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) under constitutionally questionable conditions.
As general counsel, Griffin advanced union policies that have prevented reforms in IUOE locals across the country. And those reforms are badly needed, as a cursory review of recent events at IUOE locals demonstrates.
Only a couple months before Griffin was tapped for the NLRB, leaders of Local 17 in Buffalo, NY, were indicted on racketeering charges after a slew of violent and destructive incidents dating back to 1999: a non-union company executive stabbed in the neck, another’s wife threatened with sexual assault, a truck driver’s face lacerated with broken glass, other non-union workers doused in scalding hot coffee, and Local 17 members allegedly sabotaging construction equipment.
While less violent, other IUOE locals have engaged in very shady, often illegal, practices. Leaders of Local 14 in New York City, for instance, took payoffs from infamous developer Frederick Contini, who pleaded guilty to fraud charges in 2004 after “hiring” IUOE workers who didn’t actually exist.
Members of Local 14 and New York-based Local 15 pleaded guilty a year earlier to racketeering charges after installing friends at high-paying no-work construction jobs.
That case put many of the two locals’ leaders behind bars, but in May of this year, the New York Daily News reported that as many as 56 of 204 Local 14 and Local 15 positions at the Ground Zero construction site were no-work jobs.
Such IUOE malfeasance might add nearly $100 million to the final cost of the Ground Zero project.
A host of New Jersey Local 825 leaders were arrested in 2007 on racketeering charges for similar no-work deals. The former bookkeeper for Ohio-based Local 18 pleaded guilty to embezzlement charges the year before, as did the former business agent for Local 66 in Pennsylvania in 2002. Florida Local 675’s business manager was convicted of racketeering in 1999. The list goes on.
In short, numerous IUOE locals have been led by demonstrably corrupt or otherwise unsuitable individuals. Though Griffin was in no way involved in these incidents, he backed a major proposal to insulate locals’ leaders from challenge, despite the fact that he worked for the union while all of these incidents took place – a fact that would, presumably, alert him to the need for reform.
These are the types of issues that likely would have been explored during a Griffin confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate. Unfortunately, unless and until Congress decides to reassert its advice and consent authority, he won’t face questions on them or any other matter before assuming his position at the NLRB.
Lachlan Markay is an investigative reporter for the Heritage Foundation's Center for Media and Public Policy.
First appeared in The Washington Examiner