A good many of America’s labor unions have learned to fear and loathe the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. Fighting a RICO suit can mean costly legal bills, and possibly (as the Teamsters can attest), a settlement leading to tight and longstanding federal oversight. Perhaps less known, however, is that unions themselves may sue under the law. And their target can be another union, not just an employer. Such is the case in what appears to be a David-and-Goliath battle within organized labor – at least in the minds of the organization holding the slingshot. On April 10, the Allied International Union (AIU) announced it had filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and its flagship New York City affiliate, Local 32BJ. The suit charges the SEIU with racketeering, extortion and fraud. It’s a dramatic set of charges. But they just might hold up.
The Allied International Union isn’t likely a household name even to many observers of organized labor. Based in Mineola (Long Island), N.Y., the union represents about 6,800 security guards in the New York City, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles areas. Its leaders insist they’re being bled dry by the far larger Service Employees, which includes security guards, especially at Local 32BJ, the launching pad for the career of current AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. Andrew Stern took over the SEIU international helm from Sweeney a dozen years ago, and has continued the union’s aggressive style of organizing, more than doubling its ranks to 1.9 million members. The RICO suit claims some of that increase has come at the expense of the AIU, and through highly illegal actions.
The RICO complaint accuses the Service Employees and related parties of using member dues to conduct smear campaigns against Allied officers, run SEIU-friendly stealth candidates in AIU elections, and threaten security companies who hire AIU members. The intent of these actions, argues Allied lawyer Dennis Devaney, is to drive his client out of existence. “The RICO Act contains specific legal remedies for private parties that have been harmed by illegal racketeering,” he remarked. Also named as defendants are SEIU Local 1877 (Los Angeles) and SEIU officials Michael Fishman, Neil Diaz and Andrew Friedman. This case may wind up exposing some people in high places. (Allied International Union, 4/10/08; other sources).