Minneapolis Boss Ousted, Trusteeship Imposed

United Ass’n of Plumbers & Pipe Fitters Local 15 business manager Thomas Martin resigned Mar. 15 and the Minneapolis-based local was placed into emergency trusteeship by its int’l union. UA’s prepared statement cited a union constitutional provision allowing the int’l union to take control of the local’s affairs “on being presented with a charge that an officer of a local union may have committed dishonest acts involving any of the local union’s assets.” UA int’l president Martin Maddaloni reportedly received such a complaint involving the Local’s “market recovery fund.”    Unions use market recovery funds to help union contractors compete with non-union firms that pay lower wages. Some developers say they prefer union labor if the wage rates are competitive because it is believed union projects get less scrutiny from local inspectors than when non-union labor is used.

The developments follow recent raid by federal authorities at Local 15′ offices, where FBI agents seized documents pertaining to its dealings with Minneapolis City Hall and, in particular, work performed on properties owned by City Council member Joe Biernat (DFL). Agents also took documents related to three plumbing union programs and delivered subpoenas to four Local 15 employees to testify before a federal grand jury. The search warrant served at the union Mar. 7 demanded documents related to the market recovery fund, as well as the Plumbing Industry Advancement Program and the Minnesota Industrywide Joint Labor Mgmt. Committee Inc. Martin is reportedly listed as president of the Joint Labor Mgmt. Fund. The programs cover some union contracting costs and are funded by union dues.  The purpose of the federal probe remains unclear.

Biernat is chairman of the council’s Public Safety & Regulatory Servs. Committee, which oversees regulatory and inspections issues. His committee was the first to approve the appointment of Martin and non-union plumber Bill Fignar to the Plumber’s Examining Board, which sets the standards required to obtain a city license, and decides which applicants may work in the city. Last week a subpoena delivered to City Hall sought information about Martin’s appointment to the board.

UA representative Anthony Rohrer will act as trustee of Local 15 until a hearing is conducted within 21 days to determine whether the trusteeship should be continued. Tom Hansen, an organizer for Minnesota Pipe Trades, will act as the union’s business manager. [Star Tribune (Minneapolis)  3/19/02]