RICO Suit Could Mean Long-Term Federal Control Over Longshoremen

On the surface, life at International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) headquarters in Manhattan hasn’t changed all that much. But the seeming normalcy doesn’t disguise the fact that the union’s longstanding alleged ties to two Mafia families are about to be exposed wide open. On July 6, Justice Department lawyers filed a massive civil RICO lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. Prosecutors, in their words, seek to end “the conspiracy among union officials, organized crime figures and others that has plagued some of the nation’s most important ports for decades.” The lawsuit alleges that the Genovese and Gambino crime families control the docks at the ports of New York-New Jersey and Miami, and that the mobsters have used that influence to curry favor with the international union and put their people in charge of member benefit programs.


ILA President John Bowers, his top aides, and union attorney Howard W. Goldstein have denounced the suit. But the union is facing a substantial body of evidence that includes recent testimony, convictions and guilty pleas in cases brought forth by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn. In its defense, the union is pointing to the fact that it instituted a self-reform program a couple years ago. Prosecutors respond that this is a cynical ploy; that the union undertook this effort only after the surfacing of reports of an imminent racketeering suit. The suit seeks wide-ranging civil remedies, including a court-supervised election for its executive council and the appointment of trustees to manage the union and its pension plans until they are free of mob influence.   

In the meantime, there isn’t much immediate fallout. ILA members will continue to work under a no-strike contract that has at least five years left. Even if a lawsuit does lead to a trusteeship modeled after the Teamsters’ overseer, the Independent Review Board, such an entity would lack the authority to negotiate labor contracts. Still, given the long association between the Longshoremen and the criminal underworld, any action would seem to be an improvement over the current state of affairs. (Journal of Commerce, 7/18).