In its long history, the International Longshoremen’s Association has had many bad apples, but arguably none as notorious as Local 1588. For decades, the local, located in Bayonne, N.J. across the Hudson River from ILA headquarters in Manhattan, had been a hobby horse of the Genovese crime family. The mob would choose local leaders to make sure the steady stream of income from extortion, embezzlement, kickbacks and ghost jobs would go uninterrupted. The mob-union relationship seemed invincible, even though federal prosecutors secured numerous convictions starting in the late 70s. Finally, the racket crashed during 2002-03, when the feds indicted and convicted various union members and associates, and a federal judge appointed former New York City Police Commissioner Robert McGuire to clean up the union. Four years later, as the Newark Star-Ledger indicates, the program has been proof that the good guys win once in a while.
On May 1, a new “Unity, Power, Respect” reform slate will take over the local. At the local’s nominating meeting in March, seven of its eight candidates ran unopposed. The reformers, promising financial accountability and strategic planning, are asking dockworker rank and file to fill out surveys about working conditions. Local old-timers like what they see. “This is like the old ILA,” said 67-year-old Tom Hanley, set to become the local’s recording secretary. “They (the leaders) always ran unopposed. But those guys were handpicked.” The Mafia doesn’t do too much picking these days. Law enforcement officials and longshoremen believe the federal crackdown finally weakened mob clout. There had been more than a dozen corruption-related convictions since 2000, including two former presidents. Additionally, the federal monitor oversaw the hiring of about 150 new workers. “It was corrupt from top to bottom,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney V. Grady O’Malley, who successfully prosecuted several waterfront workers in a 2001 trial. “There was not a single individual in that union (leadership) that I would say was honest.”
Still, keeping the mob down isn’t the same as taking it out. “To think that the mob influence is totally gone would be naive,” said Tom DeMaria, executive director of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, a joint New York-New Jersey agency created in 1953 to combat organized crime on the docks. “This is not a reflection on the individuals over there or on the work that the monitor has done, but there’s always the concern the mob will come back. Once the monitor goes away and the new people take office, it will be a matter of time before they try to work their way back in.” Indeed, under the federal court order, the local was scheduled to hold its elections last year, but McGuire convinced the judge that the mob’s influence was still too strong to take any chances. Ed Stier, the court-appointed trustee who headed the cleanup effort of Teamsters Local 560 in Union City, N.J. and then, starting in 1999, the international Teamsters union, knows how painstaking the process is. It took him a dozen years to get the mob out of Local 560, and another six to eight years before “the honest guys” would win an election.
The aforementioned Tony Perlstein appears to be one of the leading honest guys at ILA Local 1588. Perlstein, 31, a Brown University graduate and former Teamsters organizer in Washington State, took a longshoremen’s job in New Jersey after federal overseers took it over. In addition to the local’s secretary-treasurer-elect, he’s also a leader of the Longshore Workers Coalition, which is vying for leadership of the international union. He says that current President John Bowers “fought like hell” to keep the Justice Department from intervening in the local’s affairs. But even Bowers has kept a low profile lately in the wake of the department’s civil RICO suit against him and several other ILA officials. “If they (the new slate) unopposed, that means they did their homework and everybody is okay with them,” he stated. Times indeed are changing. (Newark Star-Ledger, 4/8/07).