Sunday, October 22, 2006

Where are those missing AFL-CIO Ethical Practices Codes?

Brian McLaughlin, still President of the NYC AFL-CIO Central Labor Council but now on unpaid leave of absence, has been arrested on federal charges of stealing a few million dollars from the council itself, from his IBEW Local 3, and from assorted political committees. These are familiar sources of illicit take. But from the Queens Little League! That’s going too far. It reminds one of Dave Beck, former Teamster international president, who defrauded his friend’s widow out of her insurance money. When news of the pending charges first broke, McLaughlin voluntarily took a six-month leave of absence from his job at the council, a paid leave of absence. But upon his arrest, the council was shocked, shocked, so shocked that it suspended his paid leave.

Ed Ott, the council’s acting executive director who is in line to replace McLaughlin, has learned something from the shocking facts. The Times reports “he planned to reach out to immigrant workers” and “to help veterans.” It’s hard to believe that the labor movement somehow requires the theft of millions of dollars by one of its top leaders to spur it along the path of progressive social action.

Denis Hughes, who is president of the state federation of labor and chairs the NYC council’s executive committee, proposes measures that are at least relevant to the subject. For one thing he told the Times, he proposes “ethics seminars for state and city leaders.” It is depressing to learn that labor leaders must be taught that it’s not nice to steal union money and certainly not from Little Leagues.

He also says, “We want to have some ethical practices and procedures that make some sense.” Where has he been? The AFL-CIO is already overloaded with Ethical Practices Codes. The first comprehensive AFL-CIO code was adopted back in 1957 and then went through several editions. Enforcement machinery was included in the AFL-CIO constitution. But directly to the point, in 1995 a supplementary code was adopted that applied specifically to city and state labor councils and their officers, like McLaughlin. That code should not have gone unnoticed, because it was debated at the AFL-CIO convention in 1995 which directed the executive council to strengthen implementation of the unimplemented codes already on the books. If Mr. Hughes can’t find a copy he can get it from Jon Hiatt, chief AFL-CIO counsel, which is where we got it.

How can it be that McLaughlin might have been stealing ecumenically from anything anywhere that was not welded down? Can it possibly be that no one anywhere knew, or even suspected? The greatest likelihood is everyone feared to speak out or even mention the subject for fear of retaliation.

Ed Ott told the New York Times, “I’ve always been willing to talk about corruption in the labor movement.” Which may be true. But we are not aware of any public occasion on which he actually yielded to that personal impulse. We don’t suggest that he knew anything about McLaughlin’s derelictions. But if he had spoken out vigorously against corruption, even as an abstract generality, while McLaughlin was still active in power as council president, does Ott imagine he would still be holding his lofty council post? He would have been passed over long ago as the kind of irresponsible, undependable person that no one in power could trust.

Take McLaughlin’s power base, IBEW Local 3, from which he seems to be accused of stealing money. Do you imagine that anyone would dare to suggest that their lofty leader might have been guilty of misdeeds? Most construction unions maintain hiring halls which are clearly union hiring halls and are subject to regulation by the National Labor Relations Board which gives at least certain minimal protection to workers against arbitrary treatment by their union officials. IBEW Local 3, however, is uniquely different; its hall masquerades as a joint industry hall and therefore is immune to NLRB control. Local 3 electricians have no recourse against favoritism or discrimination in the hall. At the mercy of the McLaughlin establishment, are they likely to complain against him or any officials?

And so all this talk about the need for codes, and training seminars, and progressive programs for oppressed workers is just a way to pass the time until the whole embarrassing thing is forgotten until the next one.

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