New York Boss Threatened Whistleblower

The president of a union rocked by the recent indictments of 26 bosses and members in a massive no-show job scheme ordered a union official to stop probing the racket nearly four years ago, according to the N.Y. Post. John G. Green, president of Int’l Union of Elevator Constructors Local 1, reportedly ordered whistleblower Martin Hastings to stop checking N.Y.C. construction sites for evidence of phantom jobs in an Apr. 8, 1998. Green insisted Hastings, who was a member of Local 1’s executive board and a union trustee at the time, was not authorized to conduct the probe. Green
also threatened to bring him up on union charges.

“You have no right to conduct any investigation on any job site either as to the number of hoist operators or as to working conditions for elevator mechanics or helpers,” Green wrote on union letterhead.”Therefore, if I am advised that you have appeared on any job site, and claimed to be a representative of this union, you may rest assured that appropriate charges will be filed against you because of such illegal conduct.”

The FBI has the letter and agents have asked members who’ve been arrested for information on Green, sources said. Green was not among those from Local 1 indicted on Feb. 7. Local 1’s attorney, Neal Hurwitz, said he had not seen the letter and claimed the union has begun checking members’ hours for excesses. [N.Y. Post 3/4/02]

Court Overturns $2,500 Union Fine against Northern California Nurse
Ending a year-long union legal assault and harassment campaign against a nurse who refused to abandon her critically ill patients during a strike at Stanford Hosp., the Superior Court of Cal., County of San Mateo, has dismissed a union-levied $2,500 fine. The Committee for Recognition of Nursing Achievement (CRONA) union levied the retaliatory $2,500 fine on nurse Barbara Williams when she would not walk off the job in a June 2000 strike. With the help of Nat’l Right to Work Legal Def. Fdn. attorneys, Williams beat the fine by arguing that it was arbitrarily assessed, and the union’s own bylaws did not allow it.

“Rather than punish Barbara Williams, she should have been rewarded as a hero and a credit to her profession,” said NRTWLDF’s Stefan Gleason. “She had the courage to put her patients needs first rather than the union officials’ agenda.”

In addition to the protracted legal battle with the union, Williams has faced extensive harassment by union activists in the hospital since she refused to walk off the job. Asked by a local newspaper why she worked during the strike, Williams answered, “I am a professional and I cannot abandon my patients. I think it is wrong, morally and ethically. I don’t want to be a part of any organization that promotes this.” The case points up the growing trend of abuse in the health care industry that results from increasing unionization of nurses and other medical professionals.

Meanwhile, Nat’l Labor Relations Bd. investigators recently found that CRONA union officials had violated Barbara Williams’ Beck rights. Under CWA v. Beck, a Supreme Court case that NRTWLDF attorneys argued and won in 1988, workers who are not protected by a Right to Work law may resign from formal union membership and withhold the portion of forced union dues spent on politics and other activities unrelated to collective bargaining. [NRTWLDF 3/11/02]

DOL Inspector General Testifies on Benefit Fund Corruption
The Dep’t of Labor’s  Inspector Gen. Gordon S. Heddell reiterated Mar. 5 longstanding concerns about weaknesses in pension plan audits provided by independent public accountants.  “Because of the magnitude and complexity of the retirement system, it is inherently vulnerable to error, mismanagement, and fraud,” Heddell told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, & Education. As his predecessors have for more than 10 years, Heddell cautioned that there is “inadequate auditing of retirement plan assets and insufficient reporting.”

Heddell pointed specifically to a loophole in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act that exempts from audits by independent public accountants (IPAs) “all pension plan funds that have been invested in institutions such as savings and loans, banks, or insurance companies that are regulated by federal or state governments.” Because of this provision, he said, IPAs conducting audits of pension plans “cannot render opinions on the plans’ financial statements, in accordance with professional auditing standards.”  On top of this, there are no requirements for IPAs to report directly to DOL irregularities found in plan records, Heddell added, contrasting the situation with reporting required on Securities & Exchange Comm’n matters.

Heddell also told the subcommittee that his agency’s work has documented the vulnerability of pension assets to fraud. “This is an area where the OIG can offer a unique perspective because of our program function responsibility to investigate corruption involving union-sponsored benefit plans,” he said.  The major concern, he said, is “multi-million dollar fraud enterprises created by financial and investment service providers, who have the opportunity and ability to structure complex financial schemes to conceal their criminal activity. Since these providers typically render advice to more than one plan, the potential for losses to the pension funds rapidly multiplies.”

The Bush Administration is seeking a $5.3 million, or 9%, hike in the budget of DOL’s office of inspector general and an increase in that agency’s staff of 25 new employees. According to DOL, the budget request includes $2.5 million and 20 staffers “to conduct a nationwide comprehensive initiative to combat labor racketeering relative to pension plan corruption and organized crime or corruption affecting industries and union leadership.”  [BNA 3/6/02]