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CHAPTER SIX: MY SEARCH FOR THE PAPER BULLET
All of my working days and most of my evenings were spent exploring the people, the papers, the world of the union. Occasionally I would get back into the International for a meeting and I would use the time to go shopping for information at night. I would often use a national holiday like Christmas or Easter to shop because I knew the International would be mostly deserted. But it was always tricky because it was not unusual for officers or organizing people to come in at odd hours especially if they were out of town and were just returning. There was a shower on the third floor for use by officers. I always had this fear of somebody popping out of a doorway at 2am asking “what the hell are you doing here at this hour?
I had my own little routine worked out. I would wait until late either leaving the building then returning or staying in my cubicle. Sometimes I would sip coffee in a deli next door to the union until late in the evening watching the garage entrance, waiting until everyone was gone. The security system recorded comings and goings in the garage where one used a pass to get in and also on the outer rear door. The system picked up the pass number and the time in and out so it was better for me not to use those entrances and I avoided them when possible. But knowing the laxity at the International I figured they probably didn’t track the ins and outs of the system even if they were recorded. Apparently I was right noone ever questioned me about in and outs.
I would check out the garage however (without going through the door) to see if the cars in the allotted parking spaces were empty. I knew who parked in what space and what kind of car they drove. If it looked good I would pick up some papers and take the elevator up to the second floor where I would walk through the halls and check to see if the offices were empty, (and the restrooms). If anyone saw me I would pretend to be looking for someone to give them a memo (and I would go back downstairs and wait for them to leave). Finally I would go up to the third floor and perform the same check.
It took discipline and patience but it worked extremely well over a long period of time and countless ventures into the files. I always copied the information I was interested in and never took originals. I would stuff the copies in my briefcase and leave. At first I kept the information in a safe deposit box but I quickly outgrew it and began to put in a large locked suitcase which I kept in a public storage unit with some personal belongings in nearby Arlington, Virginia.
There were any number of close calls in my “shopping”. There were times when I would be on the third floor going through the files when I would hear the elevator being called down and I would have to hustle down the stairs, (I always made sure the elevator was on the floor where I was shopping so that I would know when someone was coming up and would have time to escape when I heard the elevator door close to go down). I had to learn when the cleaning service came in at night and make them comfortable with my presence.
The downstairs copier was in an awkward place for me being very visible to anyone who came in through the garage door, (it is hard to explain making copies at 3am in the morning). What I would do is put a piece of luggage near the copier to indicate I had just leaving town and my excuse would be to say I had stopped by to make copies of something I had to leave for somebody right away before I left, (or if I knew they knew I was in town I would tell them I was leaving and wanted to make copies of something). A lame excuse maybe, but better than nothing.
I also made copies of something innocuous as a cover for whatever I was really copying and I would put those copies by the machine so I could quickly put them on top of the real documents if someone suddenly came in. Surprisingly, despite the many hundreds of copies I made at the copier scores of times, I never got caught at the machine except one time by the janitor who, fortunately, didn’t care anything about my presence there at midnight. Another time a Vice-President came in very late one evening and heard me doing something but I was in my own cubicle. He came over to investigate. I said hello and he said hello, I mumbled something about just coming into town, he nodded and as far as I know nothing came of it.
The material I was gathering was very broad. In truth I was not finding the paper bullet I so badly needed and wanted, (these people are very careful not to leave a paper trail and I didn’t expect to find any “smoking gun” memos; one attorney used to claim they actually created paper to clutter the trail) but what I hoped to do was to find a mosaic of facts from different sources that could possibly provide a criminal lead. In the process of shopping I was learning a great deal about the union and I was mentally developing quite a database of information.. I knew all the players and had a good sense of who the good guys and bad guys were. I was developing a knowledge of the systematic manner in which financial abuses occurred in the union and although most were done under the cover of technical legality, some of them were clearly questionable.
I was into every file possible. I am compulsive enough to be meticulously thorough and there were few files that I did not rummage through. Recognizing this might be an invasion of privacy and conceivably unethical I rationalized it on the basis that I was a computer person and that I was exploring computerizing anything and everything, (a rationalization that really didn’t hold up too well in daylight). I then decided the end justified the means. I wanted the truth of the union and I wanted to make a change. I wasn’t going to worry too much about the borderline ethical niceties. Clearly the union official weren’t concerned about the ethics of their looting.
Generally it just the day in, day out effort, painstakingly going through file after file after file, reading document after document, letter after letter. Rarely I would find something interesting. One time, for example, I found, that Hanley deposited a hundred thousand dollars into his personal bank account. I wrote down the details and passed it on to Anderson. I was excited, I thought I had hit on something, however, nothing developed and the government, as always, never tells you anything often not even thank you. I also learned Hanley had a $48,000 counter surveillance hookup on his phone to avoid wiretaps and , interestingly, he kept an autographed picture of Richard J. Daley Sr. in his desk. Hanley’s desktop was unusually spotlessly clean, not a piece of paper on it, perhaps a commentary on how much hands-on work he performed.
I reviewed the audit reports of locals and the International. The reports were mostly perfunctory. The auditors, mostly untrained and uneducated in accounting principles didn’t raise many corruption or malfeasance issues nor were they encouraged to do so. There were many serious ethical issues at a number of locals that were never addressed. The auditors were very well paid, worked out their homes when no on the road and had little supervision. Despite a requirement by the HEREIU constitution for an annual certified audit many locals did not have one.
The opportunity for financial abuses was golden for officers who ignored by-laws requiring informing members of salary increases, separation packages and other benefits.
I read the DOL audits. The 1991 International audit found 17 violations and criticized accounting controls. As I went over the correspondence between the DOL auditors, the union and the accounting firm I was struck by how the same accounting problems were referred to again and again over the years and how ultimately nothing was done by anyone to correct them. The DOL after years of International stonewalling suddenly, laughably, became concerned that the “International was attempting to circumvent their directives”. However, even that belated concern didn’t lead them to any action.
The ineffectiveness of the DOL shows through again and again in various reports. The Department repeatedly asked for expense account documentation and was repeatedly stonewalled. The DOL wanted documentation on the airplane flights and the International never gave it to them. The DOL audits reflect a combination of bureaucratic indifference, ineptitude and legislative impotence. I reviewed current expense accounts and went back into the microfilms on decades old expense accounts (and interestingly found that the only records missing were Hanley’s expense reports from 1974 to 1977 when the government was looking at the union and Hanley’s tax returns.). I tracked real estate transactions. I looked at cost records on the airplane and checked on who used the motorhome. I went through payroll records and computer printouts. I tried to find out who was using the
luxury condo but drew a blank there.
I found out where the security man kept his keys and used them to get into cabinets that were locked. I was extremely careful not to disturb anything and to put everything back where I got it from in the file. I wore gloves. Still at least one staff member must have had suspicions because she put scotch tape on her unlocked file drawer so that she would notice if anyone disturbed it at night. I simply replaced it when I was through searching. I got in the habit of fixing a picture of an office in my mind before I started searching it and then after I was finished I would retrace my steps and try to see that same image in my mind.
Climbing through dusty storage boxes I went through boxes of old telephone bills checking to see if Hanley had called any suspicious numbers. Even as I write this I am awed by the tenacity and dedication I had to the task, neither fatigue ( I often only slept a couple of hours on the floor of my cubicle) nor fear slowed me down a bit. I never seemed to really get discouraged. At times, I would feel absurd. I would think it was grandiose to believe I could bring down a Mafia inspired cartel and I always realized that I was a very small player who could easily be crushed caught between two monoliths, the government on one side and the union on the other neither of which would care about hurting me to accomplish their goals. Somehow I had to keep trying and I did.
It was strange. Roaming through the quiet empty building thru the night, listening for
sounds, opening file drawers, searching through file after file, reading and carefully replacing piece of paper after piece of paper. I would make coffee and drink it throughout the night. Although I was often quite tired, I was so driven I was never really concerned about it. My passion to do something about the union seemed to possess me making everything else in my life incidental. And in truth I was caught up in my mission; I enjoyed the challenge, even the danger at times. I found a meaning in it I had never felt before!
I was on this paper trail which somehow, someway I believed would take me to my goal.
The search was interesting in itself beyond my efforts to find evidence of wrongdoing. I was seeing in a rather unique way the multi-faced efforts it took to make organization exist; the endless chain of paperwork needed to run the day to day operations of a union. Toward dawn light would come creeping, incrementally through the windows of the building and I would turn off the coffee machine, clean up, try to make sure I turned off all the lights I had turned on and stop the shopping expedition.
After finishing my “night shift” I would wobble out into the quiet Georgetown streets at dawn, go have breakfast up on Wisconsin Avenue at a all night diner, then turn around and go back in to work the day. I kept some clothes in my cubicle and would change my shirt or tie to avoid suspicion for wearing the same clothes two days in a row. I remember the newsletter editor doing a double take on my one morning when I didn't change and at some level he knew I was wearing the same clothes I had on the day before. He likely thought I was out all night but I made sure I changed clothes from that time onward.
I was vigilant but I did not spend a lot of time worrying about what might happen to me. At one level I had the expectation that sooner or later my luck would run out and I would get caught but at another level I denied that eventuality. I confided in noone no matter who they were or how much I felt they might be trusted. The ability I had to shut down my emotions I trace back to my childhood approach to dealing with the shock of rejection. I had learned to suppress my feelings ruthlessly then and I used this ability to deal with the fear and anxiety that might have prevented me from doing what I was doing in the union. Candidly I don’t think I would have been able to do what I did without this ability. While very functional in aiding performance there was a psychological downside to repressing feelings usually manifesting itself in depression, however, I was willing to pay that price.
I had casual connections with the personnel at the union. Most were pleasant enough.
We made jokes, small talk and found some topics of mutual interest. I found a few people
I knew were okay and made conversation with them. Most of the employees were not
university types but people who had the skills of the average office worker. For many, but not all, I didn't sense much real dedication to the labor movement and perhaps I shouldn't have expected that. Some of the longer term employees did have an ingrained loyalty to unionism and would actually participate in picketing local restaurants or hotels when called upon to do so.
When I was in town I ate up in the union's employee restaurant on the top floor.
There was an officer's section and one for the other personnel. There was a female cook and a chef who doubled as a chauffeur for Hanley. The food was quite good. Often one or two of the officers, rather than sit alone, would sit with the office personnel.
That was my only real exposure to direct social contact with the other officers. There were one or two attempts to draw me into the circle. One time the General VP O'Hara asked me, "do you drink Hughie?" It was an entree into a drinking invitation. "Very little" I said. Although it may have provided me with some loose talk and possible leads I didn't want to go through the acting that would have been required to maintain their trust. I really didn't feel I could pull it off. I'm not a good actor or liar.
Leavitt one day called a meeting and pointed his finger at me: "I putting you, he said, " in charge of the computer program, get whatever help you need and get it done by convention time. Leavitt, despite his business and educational limitations, had some sense of progress and he was keen on the computer system. He was even warning us of the Y2K problem and this was in 1990! He read my memos and took an interest in their content. Now suffering from diabetes, Leavitt still continued to show up at the office every day. He didn’t need to work for money he said he just wouldn’t know what else to do. He had an old time lifestyle and a certain guarded warmth. He liked to go to the steam baths, gamble at the track and travel. He was married to a younger woman, his second wife, an attractive blond woman, (who didn’t like to hear him called “Blackie’) I understand he had a son but he never talked of him. At times he would ask the accountants about their families and admonish them to take good care of them. He didn’t like drug use, people who “got on that shit.”
There was a couple of times he seemed to want to get close to me too, once asking me if I liked fishing. “I’ve never caught a fish in my life Herman” I said, (and I hadn’t). Another reason was that I did not want to get involved with any officers was my belief that, by becoming friends with them, it would exacerbate the anger that they would feel if they found out about my activities by I felt that doing so would just give them a stronger sense of betrayal and really I wasn’t terribly interested in having friends like that.
Remarkably, due to my travels and Hanley’s infrequent time at the International I saw and encountered Hanley only a few times at the International during my six years at the union, once a mere nod in the hallway of the third floor, the another time we said hello on the first floor. I heard later he asked somebody “who is that guy?” He had apparently forgotten me and his earlier suspicions a few years prior. My assistants were a mixed bunch and somewhat problematic given their respective personalities and relationships with the officers. There was widespread nepotism and cronyism at the International and two of my people had strong personal relationships with Leavitt, one a relative and the other a close personal friend.
My last hire was a programmer and I had an idea. I contacted Anderson and asked him if he wanted to put a federal agent in the union, someone I could hire as the programmer. "I think that's an excellent idea" he said. About a month later I was meeting with the feds: a local organized crime supervisor, one of Anderson’s people, the agent who would go into the union and a government attorney. We met in the evening to talk about it in a house I was renting in Arlington, Virginia. (I taped it, putting a tape recorder in a large plant near the dining room table. I wanted a record of the negotiations. I figured if they could tape me without my knowledge, I could do the same).
I was a annoyed at the presence of the attorney. They had told me that the meeting would only be between myself and the agents. They were already playing games. I didn't make an issue of it. The local agent, a supervisor of some sort, was a tall grey haired man who had the demeanor of a government official, neat, diplomatic, cautious. He looked up the stairway to the second floor when he came in as if he thought there might be other people up there. The attorney who apparently was supposed to be protecting the government’s interests in the negotiations never said a word during the hour long discussion; he just sat there with a goofy smile on his face like this was something out of a mob novel. They kept pressing me on what I knew, “let’s lay our cards on the table”, one guy kept saying. I kept telling them I wasn’t an investigator;
I wanted to get a real investigator into the union and let them do the work I, an amateur, was trying to do. They kept telling me how much work it required to put a plant in the union, how they would need a wire and a backup etc. There were the usual suspicions and the meeting didn’t produce a decision to do it. They wanted something concrete to go after; they didn’t want to go “fishing”. They didn’t care about the financial abuses or the membership’s exploitation.
Leopold called me in to his office that week, always an experience since his administrative style led to placing piles of paper on the floor, which often surrounded his desk all the way to the door and forced one to walk zig zag through a literal maze of paper to reach a chair. He claimed he knew exactly where everything was and he could get it anytime he wanted. I never tested that claim because I didn’t believe it. He hesitantly mentioned two things: (1) the International didn’t like to put their name in help wanted ads and always used a post office box instead, (a tactic to avoid government agents from coming in) and (2) “they wouldn’t like it if I hired a black person for programmer”. I said nothing but I was amazed that he would say such a thing out loud in this day and age. I promptly went out and hired a young Nigerian programmer. Noone ever raised the issue; Leavitt went out of his way to indicate it didn’t make any difference to him “I don’t care what color you hire” he said and I don’t think he did.
Leopold, a smaller man with redish blond hair and a hard face, was from Cincinnati
(as were a number of other office personnel who had followed the union to DC). He did
a lot of administrative work in the Secretary-Treasurer's office. He lived out on Cheasepeake Bay with a male friend. Despite the fact that he said he that he hated travel
and did little beyond annual meetings and convention he was able to collect per diem
and commute to work in a leased automobile. He told me one time he didn’t even fill his gas tank and used “full serve”. He was making well over $100,000 a year, not bad for a guy with a High School education. The accounting partner didn't think much of his skills, "he's a nothing." he said to me one day.
Despite all the perks there was considerable unhappiness among the employees in the Secretary-Treasurer’s office. There was a strong consensus that there was a lack of leadership resulting in confusion and inefficiency at the working level. The lack of supervision led to people making their own rules which sometimes led to conflicts. Mismanagement effected my project also because the Secretary-Treasurer’s office maintained some supervisory ability over my people including okaying their expense accounts and raises. I told Leavitt I couldn’t supervise properly unless I had some say on raises and he agreed, changing that process to include my approval and recommendations .
I didn't push on approving the expense accounts because I didn't want challenge Leopold's
authority any further. My real goal at the union all the time was to hang in there and
get the evidence for change and I wasn't going to do anything that might jeopardize that
Age and illness had diminished Leavitt’s energy and since he lacked a business background he relied very heavily on Leopold. Leopold who had been around the union for most of his adult life had worked as an assistant to John Gibson, a prior secretary-treasurer who served a short prison term for misusing union assets. Leopold had testified at his trial. Gibson was honored for his prison gig was given a credit card, per diem of $40 a day, leased automobile, pension and lifetime salary, the emoulments of office the documents authorizing the perks called it. A reward apparently for keeping his mouth shut
during his prison term.
I also had a low opinion of the International’s accounting firm because I knew they knew the kinds of rampant financial abuses going on in the union. They knew that internal
control was extremely poor and did not meet accounting standards. Massey confided in me one day that he thought the union was going to spend itself into bankruptcy and wind up merged in another union, “they’ll probably wind up merged into the Service Employees
International” he said. Hanley had almost bankrupt the union in the Seventies with unrestrained spending forcing the union to downsize, (Hanley had also filed personal bankruptcy in 1961, prior to his rise in the union). There was no budget, no payroll protocols, no written personnel procedures, no training manuals, no timesheets for organizers or business agents, no control over expense accounts, few standard business reports, none of the basic business practices necessary to run a financially responsible organization. I used to think that a mom and pop grocery store had more financial controls.
There was a great deal of fat on the payroll evidenced by the fact that the International had 105 organizers floating around the union, three times more than the Teamsters Union which had over five times as many members. Noteworthy is the fact that
the International's membership declined precariously over two decades despite the increased number of organizers. There were 450,000 members when Hanley took over; that number dwindled to a little over 330,000 in less than a decade. Officers salaries went from $229,051 to $1,689,370 in that same period. Hanley nearly doubled the salary and expenses of the prior president in one year. Meanwhile the union death benefit for members was a meager $200 and hadn’t been increased for decades.
I also sensed, at times, a kind of disgust and disenchantment with some of the International people, who, although they didn’t dare say anything, still left an impression they were unhappy with what was going on (an exception to the rule of silence was the disgruntled shipping clerk who used to mumble sarcastically, “the members, who gives a shit about the members?”) I especially remember a long time union officer from a Midwest local who has since died. He was at heart a union man from the old school. I saw in his face a terrible disenchantment with the union that was eating him alive. He drank heavily at the convention. He died later that year.
But the general attitude was one of indifference. All of the employees had to be aware of the union’s notoriety because of the wide publicity but none seemed to feel any personal responsibility, they seemed to wear moral blinders. They bought Christmas and birthday gifts for the officers (something I stubbornly and maybe stupidly refused to contribute to; I just couldn’t bring myself to do it). Some seemed to think the mob connection funny and would laugh about it, one secretary was said to have a music box with the theme song from the Godfather. As long as Hanley kept them comfortable with salary and perks they didn’t really seem to care much about membership abuses.
Perhaps they felt they couldn’t do anything about the financial caprices. More likely they compartmentalized their work from the abuses and pushed them into the background of their minds rationalizing that it wasn’t part of their job description to do anything and it was none of their business. Maybe some of them just thought that was the way things were everywhere, (more likely they just didn’t think about it.) The union was big on employee dinners, everyone would go out to a good restaurant, drink and eat and the union would pick up the tab. It kept most people happy if not fat.
I think this attitude of “its none of my business” is the kind of indifferent individualism our culture fosters. We generally don’t care enough about injustice to act unless it effects us directly and then, of course, we expect everybody to care and only then do we usually act to try and correct it. We definitely, and to a point understandably, do not want to put our selves at risk physically or financially. However the general attitude seems to be that only a fool would put themselves at risk to change things. So what might be an act of
conviction and courage is relegated to an act of foolishness.
When someone does blow the whistle it creates a sense of conscious perhaps unconscious resentment because at some level the other employees feel challenged to consider whether they should have done something about the problem themselves and this can result in an unease bordering on guilt. The whistleblower has done something unusual, disturbed the status quo upsetting to all involved and is therefore resented. And conformity in the organizational culture is crucial to its smooth functioning even if that means smoothing over corruption. “Troublemaker” is the usual label sewed on to the lapel of
the whistleblower both by his supervisors and his peers.
There is another very personal element involved in the whistlelblowing scenario that is generally ignored in the literature and that is the relationship factor. Suppose again you have a supervisor you really like and have had a long satisfactory, even warm relationship with over the years, someone who has treated you decently and recognized your efforts. Perhaps the relationship has extended out of the workplace into a more social one. Contrast this relationship with your working for a petty tyrant who is demanding, hypercritical and distant. Which one are you more likely to blow the whistle on if you discover ethical problems? And what will the relationships be like if you are able to
continue to work in the organization? These are very tough considerations
in the whistleblowing scenario.
Even those who go through the protocol of trying to resolve the ethical issue internally are seen as problem makers not problem solvers. People generally look for an ulterior motive believing that the whistleblower is hostile, trying to get even, is self-aggrandizing, self-righteous or worst unbalanced, “crackpot”. Being ethical to the point of a risk-taking action in the organization is an anomaly and is regarded with suspicion, mistrust, and hostility.
The literature is replete with whistleblowers who have tried to correct things through internal processes and while they may have gotten listeners they didn’t get advocates or supporters. Nobody is going to go out on the organizational limb with the whistleblower. They know what’s going to happen to him or her, the limb is going to break and the whistleblower is going to take a fall. The cliche most often heard is “if you have God, the law, the press, and facts on your side you have a fifty-fifty chance of defeating the bureaucracy”.
Author Peter Drucker and economist Milton Friedman are two corporate apologists who consider whistleblowing equivalent to “informing”. Drucker and others consider whistleblowers as “rats”, (funny this is a term the mob uses also). Drucker and Friedman belie their grandiose reputations as market prophet and prominent free market economist respectively with this repressive, short-sighted approach to whistleblowing. It should be clear even to any intelligent observer that providing an outlet for whistleblowing in an organization makes much better sense than having employees go to the media or governmental authorities with their ethical issues.
Resolving problems in house makes much better sense than in the public square. As one might expect from these two devotees of the bottom line, the concept of an employee being concerned enough with public interest, whether that be health or safety, to go public after exhausting internal sources is incomprehensible . To Drucker and Friedman whistleblowers who have protected thousands of lives by bringing airline and nuclear safety issues to the public are “rats”. This kind of amoral capitalism is equivalent to Mafia amorality.
In the Summer of 1986 I met with Mike Anderson and two of his staff in Chicago at Bannigan’s, a Michigan Avenue restaurant/bar. I was excited since I viewed this as strong interest on their part. I was to work with two agents, a man and a young woman. The man, bored looking and snide talking had a barely concealed contempt for “informers”. He was a type I found too often in federal enforcement circles, self important with an immature romantic view of their work which must have been garnered from TV programs and movies during adolescence. I decided right away I wasn’t going to work
with him. The young woman seemed sensitive and sympathetic. We talked a little about
the time I spent with the IRS and then the subject switched to the union. “I’m hoping we can do some good” I said. I still had concerns about the legality of what I was doing and after lunch I turned and said to Anderson, “You know maybe I should get a lawyer.” I saw Anderson’s face change as if he suddenly had an epiphany. It was only in retrospect that I realized that he thought I wanted an attorney to protect myself form criminal exposure. I wanted only wanted to make sure I didn't put myself at any legal risk to the union.
From then on our relationship went cold I received very little input from him and no guidance. The incident is revealing in that it shows the great fear the agents had about being used by the mob. They had been burned a number of times by informants who were actually either loyal to the mob or who were working as double agents (a la Jackie Presser who is said to have played both sides as President of the Teamsters). However, to me, it also revealed the rigid mindset of the investigator. Here was a man I had voluntarily agreed to help, whom I had written a letter waiving immunity and any compensation, who had checked my background, who knew I had worked for the IRS as an agent and whom I had already given significant information...and he still didn’t trust me. One can’t help speculating that mentality of governments agents in so imbued with fear of bureaucratic criticism that they essentially lack imagination and creativity, (characteristics their mob adversaries have in abundance and perhaps that is why they are usually a half step ahead of the Feds).
Anderson about a year later indicated the head of the Chicago DOL racketeering section was interested in working with me and I began connecting with him. While more collegial than the prior agent it was clear he had been briefed and he also maintained a guarded attitude. He was in his forties, earnest, very much Chicago style, lots of street sense, gutsy. We met one time at O’Hare airport and he shared some concerns about various officials with me. He was especially interested in the Gallo brothers who ran the Milwaukee local. (One of the Gallo brothers Vincent
was later banned from the union).I told him as much as I knew at the time about my findings and impressions of the union people I had encountered thus far. “I don’t mind taking risks” I told him as we shook hands to leave, “but I want to take intelligent risks.”
Shortly afterwards when I was out in California training one of my computer staff, a Mexican who came from the Los Angeles local. One morning he told me a story, “Blackie” Leavitt, he said, had given $10,000 to an officer of the L.A. Local who was running for the election. This was a clear violation of federal law. The story sounded strange to me, unreal, but I didn’t want to pass over anything important so I told the DOL agent the story with the caveat, “to take it for what it was worth”.
Some months later I went to meet Leavitt in D.C. for a meeting he in his office. During the meeting Leavitt glared at me but said nothing then got up and left the room. “What’s
with him?” I asked Leopold. who shrugged, “he gets like that once in awhile” he said. It took me a long time, too long, to realize I had been set up, ( my idealism coupled with a tendency toward naivete was a dangerous combination). The story had been concocted and passed on to me. In my zeal I gave it to the DOL and the DOL had gone in looking for the fictitious 10k.
Obviously it had not been done subtly and Blackie now knew I was an “informer”. I will never quite understand why he didn’t simply get rid of me right then and there. That would have been the prudent thing to do, (that’s what I would have done).. He could have done it under any pretext. Perhaps he liked the cat and mouse game but it might have also have been he had no fear of criminal involvement, after all, the lucrative perks of the job were all authorized under a legal protocol which legitimized everything
they did in the union.
Some months afterwards Leavitt and I went to lunch in Georgetown. As we started to leave the office I picked up my briefcase. “You need that?”, he asked nodding to the briefcase. I realized he was worried about a wire. “Not really” I said, “force of habit”. I took it with me anyhow making a mental to make sure I made the lunch conversation as innocuous as possible. At lunch we made small talk but he did tell me about some health problem he had been dealing with. Suddenly I felt sorry for him, this grandfatherly old man struggling with diabetes and now another condition. I found myself giving him advice on how to take care of himself, something he probably didn’t need but seemed to appreciate. There was something accepting, non judgmental about him that was appealing to me. It was as if he had this philosophical world view where everything that happened was okay, was the way it was and nothing else. But that was as close as I ever got to Blackie.
I decided not to work with the Chicago DOL agent and made contact with Ron Chance, a DOL agent who had spent a career on some of the HEREIU locals, especially the Atlantic City local, and had testified at Congressional hearings related to the union. Chance was a welcome change from the prior agents: he was open, straightforward and dedicated. Chance, who worked as a highway patrolman before going into the DOL Racketeering Section, came out of Jesuit background and was incapable of dishonesty. He was around my height at 6 feet, trim and had a crew cut. I felt comfortable with him and over time we developed a mutual trust which was productive. We exchanged information with ease and confidence. He, of course, had limits on what he could tell me but he shared confidences when he could. Chance played a large role in driving out corruption from the Atlantic City local. He has since retired from the DOL.
CHAPTER EIGHT: I’M DISCOVERED
Roughly a year later I was staring at this same bag ripped open in my Arlington Virginia storage unit. At first I thought it was just a random break-in, someone robbing storage units. But when I realized what was taken I knew it was the International’s work. My tapes were gone, some of the documents and a small pair of binoculars (which must have appealed to the thief), nothing else. I remember thinking “this is like some dumb movie
plot except I’m in it”. I wanted the break-in on record so I had the manager call the police. The lock on the door of the unit had not been broken (showing some professional expertise) however the bag had been slashed open. The thief left behind a flashlight, which to the cop’s chagrin, I had picked up, contaminating it. However the thief had worn gloves and later it was determined that there were no prints either on the flashlight or the batteries. I said nothing about organized crime connections deciding to notify the Feds rather then involve the local police.
I drove back to my hotel suite in the Georgetown and tried to reconstruct what happened . I had opted to come back to the International about three months earlier to do
some administrative work and to do some serious “shopping”. I was also reaching the point of do or die, a state born out of frustration, exhaustion and internal pain. I grew somewhat reckless (and knew it at the time). I had my things shipped to the International before putting them in storage alerting them to the fact I was using storage. I began to do all night searches at the International again, bringing in food, sleeping on the floor in my cubicle, spending nights searching.
And then the flashpoint occurred. My Nigerian programmer told me he thought his computer had been tampered with, someone had tried to enter it. I got too cute, too clever for my own good I seized on the opportunity to try to make myself look loyal and allay some of the suspicions I knew existed about me. I wrote a memo describing the incident and indicating my concern for security. It was a ploy that backfired.
Three days later I was called out to the plush Beverly Hills office of Herman Leavitt. He sat behind his large desk in his spacious office and looked at me long and hard. “Edward”, he said, “was very concerned about this incident because he thinks the government might be involved”. I told him I had been too and that’s why I wrote the memo. Toward the end of the conversation I looked into his eyes; they were piercing and very, very thoughtful. He didn’t believe a word I said.
I told myself I had to be extremely careful and I tried but I still found myself taking unnecessary risks, (it was almost as if I wanted to get caught to end the ordeal). I continued to look long and hard at the union at night. One Friday I called the storage unit from my own office phone asking them if they would be open on Sunday, something I had never done since the wiretapping incident, I had always made “sensitive” calls from payphones. I had been suffering from a herniated disk for two weeks literally rolling out of my bed and crawling at times from the bedroom to the bathroom and on Sunday I decided to go to Georgetown Hospital’s emergency room. I wanted to get some blank checks from my checkbook.
Sunday morning I was driving out of the International garage in my rental car. I don’t know if it was the accumulated pain, the medication I was taking, or the unconscious desire to get caught but I vividly remember seeing a man in a white van react when I came out of the garage onto “M’ street. I saw the van behind me on 28th Street as I drove to the 14th Street bridge. Everything seemed to be in slow motion and my mind was simply recording it like an video camera but I didn’t seem to be making an interpretation of the events. At the storage unit I went in and found my checks. I remembered I hadn’t made any audio notes on my tape recorder since I came back to D.C. in January and I picked up the pocket-sized recorder and began talking into it.
I had made tapes like this occasionally for most of the time I was investigating the International. I realized it was a rather dangerous exception to my usual disciplined approach but I wanted a record of my adventure, something for old age reminiscences. (I still have a few and it’s getting close to reminiscing time). I had gotten in the habit of recording tapes while on my motor home trip. I was deliberately obscure on the union tapes only obliquely referring to my explorations. However they also included the tape I had made of my meeting with the Feds. I had, prior to my move back to the storage unit, previously kept the tapes in a safe deposit box. I had just started recording that day when a tall athletic man with black hair wearing gloves and carrying a flashlight went by the unit and looked in as he did so. I had talked into the recorder about two minutes when the man passed again looking over his right shoulder into my unit. I felt uneasy. I talked briefly into the recorder and then put it into the bag. I closed it, locked it up and left the unit.
I remembered then what had transpired at the International the past week. I had gone up to the restaurant on the top floor of the International for coffee one morning and joined about 5 other staff of the International sitting around a small table. There was complete silence when I sat down. The air was dense with hostility. I threw out a couple of conversational offerings but it was clear there would be no takers. I postulated it might had been the memo. Could they have been offended by my criticism of security? I thought of the experience in terms of office politics. In the meantime I learned Herman made a surprise trip into the International from California. One of the staff laughed, “he didn’t tell anyone he was coming” he said. I finally understood that morning’s oddness in the context of the unit burglary. The word was out at the International that I was an informant.
But my back still hurt so I went over to Georgetown and got an epidermal shot which worked like magic. Back at my suite I tried to figure out what to do. I was only 3 blocks from the International and I felt very vulnerable. They knew and I had to go to work there Monday morning! My brother for some unknown reason, (he nor anyone else in my family
knew of my extracurricular activities) had given me a .22 pistol about two years before. I took it at the time despite the fact I am not a gun person but it had occurred to me it might be a good thing to have around just in case. It had languished in storage but now I wanted it. I drove back out to the unit and got the pistol.
Returning to the suite my heart jumped, someone was in my room. I put my hand on the pistol and looked desperately for the exit stairs. I cursed myself for not knowing where they were. There was noise from the room. Would they be that indiscreet? I snapped off the safety lock and slowly walked into the room. Somehow it felt okay. And it was, an electrician in work clothes was in the room changing light bulbs. I gave him a relieved hello and settled in for the night.
It was a long anxious, surreal night. I tried to set up the room as a fortress. I moved the furniture around, put the TV in front of me on the couch I laid on and laughably (later) put pots and pans on the floor in front of the door in case I fell asleep so I would hear someone enter. I turned off all the lights except for the light from the bathroom door which was adjacent to the entrance so I could see clearly and get a shot or two off. The whole situation seemed unreal and I accused myself of melodrama. For most of the night I waited, laying on the couch, facing the door but toward dawn, tired and feeling less frightened, I even slept for a hour. I resolved to call Anderson first thing in the morning on his beeper.
I had coffee before I called Anderson. “They found out about me” I said, “they broke into my storage unit”. I heard him take a deep breath. “I’ll set you up with an appointment to see an agent there” “An appointment?” Yes he said, and in the interim 911 would be my best bet for protection. I hung up. 911. I was on my own. So much for government gratitude or protection. I paced the room awhile thinking about how I would react if they confronted me, something I fully expected. It was after nine now and I need to go in to work. I actually never thought seriously about not going in. Finally I decided if
they challenged me I would tell them to go to hell , that I was in the arms of the Feds. I finished my second cup of coffee and went downstairs.
And there he was in the lobby talking to the desk clerk, the guy I had seen at the storage unit and who had broken into my locker. I was stunned. They had set him up in the same hotel and that’s how he knew I was leaving for the storage unit. I went back upstairs and got the.22. I wasn’t sure what I was doing. My concern really was what he might intend to do with me. I went downstairs carrying my briefcase in my left hand and the pistol in my right hand in my jacket pocket. He no longer was in the lobby. I walked outside and saw him waiting outside with a small piece of luggage. A flash of recognition went across his face and he frowned.
I went past him into the street and then deliberately turned toward an underpass and a deserted part of the street. I gripped the gun, if he was out to harm me I wanted him to make his move while I was ready and could defend myself. As I walked to the underpass I decided I would shoot him if he followed me, no questions asked. I was surprised at my own ruthlessness but I knew if I hesitated at all I would be the one dead. I stopped and waited in the underpass. He did not follow. I walked back up the street on the other side. He was sitting now with the baggage by his side. He was waiting for a bus to take him to the airport probably back to Chicago. They had hired him to do a job and he had done it well. I still wonder if I would have hesitated.
Everybody knew. I could tell that from the way people looked at me. Grogan came in talking loudly to nobody in particular, (which was his normal entrance). He saw me going into my cubicle. “A socialist” he said out loud, “a socialist” he repeated. The “socialism” comment came from the tapes; that was the only way he could have known that about my connection with socialist groups; I had never discussed these experiences with anyone at the International because it was something I had learned to treat with discretion. Now I knew for sure he had heard the tapes.
I went to my cubicle and started cleaning out some of my personal things from my desk.
I figured I wouldn’t have too much time to do this later. I was busy doing this when I looked up and saw Leavitt standing in the door of the cubicle. “How you doing” his face was impassive . I nodded affirmatively, “okay”. He looked at me directly. “How’s the back?”. “Better” I said. “That’s good” he said, he started to leave then stopped and turned around, “We don’t know what to do with you” he said flatly and left. It was one of those always surprising moments of candor that I had experienced a number of times with Leavitt during my time at the union. I took a deep breath. I sensed I was going to be alright, at least for awhile.
I knew my time at the International was short so I redoubled my efforts. That lunch I started making calls to public interest groups from a payphone. I decided I wanted to initiate a civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) suit against the union officers by myself and some members if I could find any willing to do so. I needed help. I called GAP, (Governmental Accountability Project); CPAs for the Public Interest, the ACLU, the Association for Union Democracy and the litigation group from Ralph Nader’s Public Interest group. None offered assistance. I began to feel like a crank or a fanatic running around D.C. telling a story noone was really interested in hearing. I began doubting myself again.
I decided to try to get media attention focused on the union. I wrote "60 Minutes",
"20/20" and "Frontline" telling them about the abuses in the union and the failure of the
DOL and the accounting firm as well as the organized crime element. Only "Frontline"
expressed an interest. One staff member seemed keenly interested. “We haven’t done anything on labor for awhile” he said. I sent them a lot of data to support my contention and they looked at it but ultimately decided to pass on the issue for other programs.
Was all this financial stuff just normal behavior? Was I simply naive or simple? Didn’t the government have financial abuses, corruption? And what about corporations? Maybe this was commonplace, acceptable and I wasn’t sophisticated enough to know the facts of life. I talked again that week with Art Fox. I told him what was going on. He felt it was as wrong as I did and that was reinforcing. He asked the obvious “Are you concerned about your safety”. “Somewhat” I said. The 1991 HEREIU general convention was coming up and I wanted to send a letter to all the delegates telling them what was going on at the International. It would be my parting shot. Fox wasn’t enthusiastic, “Why don’t you just immolate yourself in front of the convention?” was his sarcastic response.
His comment triggered an association in my mind. Martyrdom has long been an ideal in Catholicism and the Church has a long list of martyrs. Martyrdom makes one a potential candidate for sainthood. My baptismal name had been Sebastian after Saint Sebastian, a Roman soldier, who had been shot full of arrows by the Romans after refusing to renounce
his conversion. The church had a marble statute of him, (filled with arrows in his torso his eyes cast upward toward heaven) in the front of the church. I remember staring reverently for long times at the white marble statue envying a man who was still admired two thousand years after his death. I realized that ideal still had some strange and dangerous magnetism for me. I junked the idea of a letter.
Later that week I kept the appointment Anderson made for me with a local IRS organized crime agent. It was a waste of time. Anderson still suspicious of my motives had briefed him with the idea that I was one of the boys who had been discovered informing and was now running scared. The agent said “Okay so Anderson has been giving you money to inform right?” I was offended I had never asked for or taken a dime. The reality was that I was doing this out of idealism and this guy, the agent was the one getting paid to do what he was doing, he was the mercenary, not me. After some talk the agent realized I was for real and he turned sympathetic advising me to get help from public interest organizations.
I also talked with the FBI by phone that week but the agent didn’t at believe me. “Why would they just take your tapes and not make it look like a burglary? he asked disbelieving. We talked awhile and he said he would check with his supervisor. When I called him back a day later he said, “These are some very tough people but we’ll take them on, come in and we’ll talk about it”. There was something in the agent’s voice, an immaturity, a bravado, a studied casualness that put me off. I thought the hell with it; I have had enough of so-called law enforcement.
The next week I debated strategy in my mind. Someone left a note scrawled with obscenities on my desk, but that didn’t disturb me much, it seemed like a spontaneous stupid thing someone had done on their own.. I still can’t figure out who did it; the handwriting was poor, almost illiterate or perhaps an effort was made to disguise it. And a rumor was circulating I had slept with my mother and was a pervert. I realized with a start that whoever had heard the stolen tapes had interpreted the Oedipal conversation I had with the psychiatrist in Toronto literally.
One lunchtime I was walking up “M” street toward Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown when a car suddenly came up alongside me and slammed on the brakes hard. I turned around and recognized an officer from a West coast local at the wheel. He was a sergeant-at-arms at the conventions, sort of a strongman monitor. Rumor had it he was a former pro football player. Right now he was playing intimidator. However, for some reason, I wasn’t intimidated. I merely looked at him like he was crazy and continued my walk up the street. They were bluffing with this sort of stuff and I knew it.
In fact I was somewhat reassured by the bluffing because I knew that they knew I was working with the government and that if anything happened to me they thought it would be big trouble for them. They didn’t want to bring down the government on the union. And I also knew that any real serious threat to my well being would come from the organized crime types outside the union not necessarily from within the union itself. My concern now was not that somebody in power might order any retaliation on me but that someone might act ad hoc and do so.
I have to admit to momentarily feeling as if I betrayed the people at the union. It was a transitory feeling one that I got past quickly by remembering it was they who were betraying the members not me. However, that feeling illustrates how deeply the cultural concept of loyalty can be. Even though I had deliberately keep a distance between myself and the other personnel and I knew deep down I was doing the right thing I still felt
a sense of disloyalty. I realized that the tension caused by my discovery was significant and wouldn’t diminish. I also had to be concerned about my safety. I offered them my resignation and they acknowledged it immediately. I had solved their problem of what to do with me.
Curiously some of the reactions, while unspoken, were sympathetic. I was puzzled at first and then understood that the psychiatrist’s tapes had also described some of my childhood and my current loneliness. I have to admit I liked that sensitivity. They were after all human despite our differences. Thinking about the tapes I also had a good laugh. There were a couple of times during which, just for fun and perhaps out of loneliness, I had used to have conversations (rather one-sided of course but Wolfgang, being not much of a talker),. I would tell Wolfgang about this or that, ask him how he felt about it, laugh and just carry on as if he were a silent partner. I could see the listeners to the tape wondering, worrying about who the hell Wolfgang was and how was he involved in all of this.
Unfortunately the tapes had repercussions for my Nigerian programmer. The tape of
the federal agents discussing putting an agent in the International made the listeners wonder if the Nigerian was the plant that had been discussed, (they had no way of dating the tape) and he was dismissed shortly after I left. I felt bad about this but there was nothing I could do about it. I know his dismissal puzzled him. He landed on his feet with a job with a government agency.
I met Hanley the following week on the street one evening as I was returning to the International after a goodbye dinner with one of the employees, a secretary who had taken care of my union affairs while I was on the road. She introduced me to him although he knew who I was. I saw fear cross his face. The secretary was oblivious to the situation, “his parents came from the same part of Ireland your ancestors came from”, she said smiling. Hanley was extraditing himself from the encounter, “beautiful country” he said as he quickly walked away.
Indeed Hanley’s grandparents came from El Fin in Country Roscommon a short distance from where my mother was born and I had heard her talk of it. My grandfather was from that area but his name was Hanily. In a trip to Ireland in 1975 I had found a tombstone dated 1642 with the name Hanily on it. I wondered if it were conceivably possible we may have been related at some ancestral stage; that would have had added an interesting touch of irony to the whole affair.
My RICO suit never received any support. I contacted an attorney with a reputation as being concerned with labor issues. He was a very well paid legal counsel for a professional
sports organization. I sent him a FedX package and called on it shortly afterwards. He promised to look at it. I could tell from his voice he wasn’t interested. Six weeks later his secretary told me it was still laying on his desk unopened. I told her he was doing me and my cause a disservice. He refused to talk to me on the phone. And this was a guy who spoke at the AUD convention on fighting labor corruption. Some guys are big on talk at conventions but small on action in their lives unless they are well paid for it.
I still had some time left at the International. I had left my departure date open and now that I had assured them I was leaving I was taking my time in doing so. I wanted to go shopping, one more time. I waited until everyone went to the convention, (I checked the airline billing manifesto and their reservations by name to be sure) and made one more extensive shopping trip. The International was deserted except for two clerks on the first floor who were answering the phones. This time I went for everything. I went to the IBM computer and printed out every transaction in and out of the union for the past five years. It took two reams of paper and 15 hours to run off . Ultimately I turned over all this information to the DOL with the stipulation that I could have it back if I ever wanted it.
I went to the convention midweek. I had to give a demonstration of an accounting program. I was nervous going to Chicago. Now that the word was out on me I didn’t know what to expect. If anything is going to happen to somebody it’s going to happen in Chicago. Instead of staying at the convention hotel with everyone else I booked a room at the Drake, a hotel by the Oak Street Beach and a mile from the Palmer House where the convention was being held. My mother worked at the Drake as a maid when we were
on Clark Street. If anyone ever doubts we have a class system in America all they need to
do is look at the plush ambience of hotels like the Drake and then walk back through the
door marked “employees” and see the grim rooms and hallways where the employees
I attended one event at the 1991 convention, .an accounting demonstration of a software package I had selected to do the local’s financials. I participated in a discussion on the package afterward making some suggestions on its implementation. I did well under a lot of pressure. As soon as it was over I left. I said hello to Massey in the elevator on the way out. He said nothing. Afterwards I went over to State Street and listened to some street blues, finally I went back to the Drake and checked out. My union days were over.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: I GET ANOTHER CHANCE
I was back in North Carolina in 1998 renting a hundred year old house in Durham living frugally on my early retirement pension of $571 a month (with no cost of living clause) and my savings. I had hopes of making some money doing grant writing for nonprofits, a task I
found particularly useful and rewarding. I learned of hearings being held by a house subcommittee, the topic “union democracy”. I began contact with Peter Gunas and Lauren Fuller on the staff of the Subcommittee on Employer- Employee Relations chaired by John Boehner (R-Ohio). I kept contact with the subcommittee mostly by e-mail for the next year.
In February of 1999 I received a phone call from an associate producer of NBC’s Dateline. He had heard about me from the Eugene Methvin, the Reader’s Digest writer. He came right to the point, “will you go on camera with your story?” I said, “sure”. I felt that this was a tremendous opportunity to bring the attention of the plight of the union to the public and hopefully create some pressure on government to bring real reform to the union. Shortly after the “Dateline” call, the subcommittee called to inform me that they were going to hold a hearing exploring union democracy in HEREIU, an event I did not view as a coincidence. I confirmed later they knew that Dateline was going to do a program on the union.
During the following months I unloaded everything I knew on the Dateline producers. I sent them all the written material and documents I had kept and bombarded them with e-mail items as I recalled events and people. The information was invaluable to their research people. In June I was in D.C. for the on camera interview. I met the producers in the bar
of the St. Regis Hotel. Both were likeable enough and low key. They told me this was the “hardest job” they had ever done since it was so difficult to get the people to talk. They shot some film of me the following day, shots of me at the Department of Labor building and in front of the Capital (corny I thought). They even filmed me walking by the International headquarters. (I was hoping I wouldn’t run into anybody and I didn’t).
We drove out to Bethesda to a studio where I met the interviewer, a dark-haired woman with a patented smile and we began the interview. I never found my intellectual balance during the interview. I thought the questions posed by the woman were unprepared and somewhat inane. (In retrospect I don’t think we liked each other). I realized we had to inform the audience with basic info but the questions seemed to be too casual and unrelated. What bothered me most was the lack of narrative flow as we jumped from one aspect of the union to another. I knew they would edit the interview into some coherent story but it was disconcerting to me not to have a logical linear flow, (I think that way I guess). I was wired up, edgy and moved around in my seat. “Sit still” the producer said, he said in deliberately in the voice a parent or a teacher would use to a child and we all laughed. I sat still from that point on but when the interview was finished I turned and told the producer, “I don’t want to watch this”. He seemed comfortable with it telling me I did “fine”. It didn’t feel “fine”. I was also upset with myself for blowing the point that members could file RICO suits against unions that were defrauding them. I simply forgot it.
I had a busy time in D.C. I met with the Subcommittee staff that same week and provided them with information that would help during the hearing. I would keep contact with them until the hearing on July 21, 1999. As someone who voted Democratic 90% of the time I knew too well the anti-labor bias of Republican legislation and I find it hard to believe to this day that the Republican party which fights so ferociously against even a minium wage for working people and equally ferociously for business interests is truly for the average working person. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the staff who seemed genuinely concerned with the lack of democratic process in HEREIU and union corruption. Gunas was pleased with the meeting, “you’ve had a pretty productive week’ first Dateline and now us”, he said. I was impressed with Gunas who had a smooth, subtle intelligent approach to his work.
They were straight-forward with me. I told them that I would cooperate as long as the thrust of the effort was anti-corruption and not anti-union. I was told I would have five minutes to testify. I mentioned that it would be hard to squeeze in 12 years of experience with the issues in five minutes. They gave me an extra minute, (such are the protocols of hearings). I worked hard on editing my own statement for weeks but when I read it aloud the night before in my D.C. hotel room I was startled to realize it still ran nine minutes (reading aloud is quite different from reading silently). I worked until after midnight editing the paper down, (and every word I cut felt like a physical amputation).
I felt some fear as I walked from my hotel on Capital Hill to the Rayburn Building. The staff had offered me a hood to cover my face so as to testify anonymously but I had quickly brushed that aside as overly dramatic. When I got to the staff’s office the fear has disappeared. I was just on time. “I knew you’d show up” Gunas smiled as he shook my hand”. It occurred to me that he may have been more relieved that I showed up as opposed to being sure that I would. I met two other witnesses, one from the San Francisco local who was going to talk of union democracy in that local and a young Latino from Chicago who was running for election in Local 1. We talked for a few minutes before the hearing.
One guy was from the HERETICs the so-called dissident group of the union. There were only about ten people in the group nationally. A reporter had characterized them as “gadflys” and that was pretty much the truth. They were well-intentioned, good at getting some publicity, but more talk than action. One of the group, Michael Rose formerly from the Las Vegas local, did the most constructive and ambitious thing by starting and maintaining at his own expense a website called the HERETICs where members could exchange views even anonymously if they preferred An active dissident group never materialized in the union.
The hearing room was packed with union people many of them wearing yellow union tee shirts. I saw some familiar faces including the editor of the HEREIU newsletter, the propaganda organ of the union that provided literal and figurative cover for the union officers over the years with ghost written articles by the editor presenting the officers in a glorified manner. There were a couple of vice-presidents and in a photograph of the hearing I saw later I recognized Frank Massey standing in the rear of the room. John Wilhelm, the new president of the union was there to testify as was Mullenberg the monitor, an official from the DOL and the Department of Justice. Both Dateline and the union were filming the proceedings.
Physically the hearing room seemed more mundane in reality than it appears on television; it ambience had the sterile functional quality of a school auditorium. Each of us had a microphone and a light bulb on the long panel table in front of us. I was on the end seat next to the court reporter (who kept bothering me during the hearing asking me how to spell words.) The subcommittee, flanked by staff , was facing us. Some of the members somewhat disconcertingly popped in and out of the hearing, ostensibly, to answer roll calls or vote (or perhaps go to the restroom or get some coffee).
Chairman Boehner made an introductory statement. Boehner had an unusual almost eerie presence. His face and body have a clarity that is unreal. He reminded me of a hologram of a human being rather than a real one. (Boehner who was rumored to have taken tobacco money on the floor of the House is a smoker and had no compunction about the effect of second hand smoke on his staff in their small office off the hearing room). Later Boehner mentioned, as an interesting personal aside, that his father was a member of the union for over 40 years.
I talked briefly with Boehner later during a recess allowing members of the panel to vote and the rest of us a break. He asked me what I was doing. I asked him if he thought anything would come out of the hearings. “Sometime just shining some sunlight on a problem is a good thing” he said. I interpreted the answer as a cliched piece of BS that congressmen threw out to constituents when they couldn’t do anything but something.
The panel of representatives composed of Democrats and Republicans (in majority), immediately fell into their partisan stances with the Democrats going on the attack with Representative Miller of California, a big man with a powerful voice, the designator hitter to attack the Republicans. He began by accusing the Republicans of attempting to undermine labor and of “union bashing”.
Miller, whose PAC contributions are loaded with union contributions, was clearly more concerned with playing to his union audience and potential contributors than correcting union corruption. The Democratic attitude reflected their own compromised position, namely the huge campaign contributions of labor both in money and manpower, which precludes them from taking any meaningful action to correct the flaws in government oversight which allow union corruption to flourish for decades. Their concern for their campaigns far outweighed any concern for the union members.
The Republicans for their part were remarkable genteel. I think a strategy was in place not to appear as union bashers. This strategy failed, however, in that the Democrats under Rep. Miller’s lead seized the initiative in the hearing and didn’t let it go. (Later Peter Gunas was asking “how did we let Mr. Miller take over this hearing?”) Most of my life I have avoided public speaking because of shyness. In high school, I would skip the classes where I was scheduled to speak. However in this the most important speaking engagement of my life I wasn’t nervous at all. I was wired with determination, all feelings shut off, and my mind focused. I was the first witness.
I led off with a strong indictment of the government’s failure to implement democratic process in the union and for not attempting to recover the millions of misappropriated union funds. I talked of the many financial abuses, my attempts to change things by working with the government, my effort to get the DOL audit team to expose the abuses, the failure of the accounting firm to do its job and the dominance of the union by Hanley and his Mafia mystique as well as his refusal to testify before the Senate committee. (Rep. Miller would later refer to my criticism of Hanley’s silence saying somewhat sarcastically that he didn’t know that not testifying under the Fifth Amendment was an admission of guilt. I was tempted to ask him if he suspected his wife was having an affair, and he asked her about it and she pleaded the Fifth Amendment whether that would leave him comfortable with her candor).
I ended my testimony challenging the participants in the hearing to implement democratic process, i.e., direct elections for general officers. I’m not sure exactly how long I talked but when I was finished the red bulb warning light was blinking and I could see Chairman Boehner
becoming uncomfortable. The witness’s testimony, including mine, is on the web at www.house.gov.; Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan testified before Congress the same day preempting me from appearing on C-SPAN. (I’ll never forgive the Chairman for that).
The subsequent testimony could not have made my point better. The monitor’s comments were defensive and unconvincing. He made the unusual claim he had no knowledge of the immunity agreement between Hanley and the government despite the fact he had negotiated his resignation. Responding to my claim about conflict of interest he also claimed he had no voice in the selection of the review board; he did not recover the union funds but urged the union to do so, (in a classic buck passing maneuver President Wilhelm said he wouldn’t do so because the monitor didn’t do so), Wilhelm did not address the issue of direct election of officers.
Wilhelm, a portly, dynamic and capable man, had accomplished some good organizing work for the union. Hanley selected Wilhelm to be his replacement when he resigned from the union. (Wilhelm was elected president at the 2001 general convention.) Wilhelm, while not mob connected, signed off on everything Hanley proposed during his years at the union and later turned into an apologist for him. Mr. Wilhelm, after dutifully noting some of his accomplishments, dramatically declared he would have resigned if any of the national leadership had been found to have organized crime connections. (He seems to overlook Hanley’s refusal to discuss the matter before the Senate Hearing or his acceptance of a ban to communicate with Local 54).
Wilhelm, as I noted, was a member of the executive board for years overlooked and effectively collaborated in the financial rape Hanley conducted on the union by concurring with his signature on all of the outrageous spending propositions. I saw no evidence of any protests by him over any of the outrageous spending. The RICO action by the Justice Department named the General Executive Board as defendant charging them with multiple illegal acts to defraud the membership. The monitor could have and should have removed all of the executive board including Wilhelm for violating their fiduciary responsibilities to the members. Wilhelm made no effort to democratize his union by calling for direct elections. Obviously his concept of democracy doesn’t include the members of his union.
Mr. Yud the spokesman for the DOL, a stereotype bureaucrat, humorless, sat rigid in his necktie and suit reading from a prepared script. He went through a litany of statistics: the number of unions the Dol audits, the number of elections they monitor, a full monologue which eluded any explanation of the financial tragedy which took place at HEREIU. Mr Yud, his eyes never leaving his script, defended his section’s role in auditing the union saying that while the law establishes financial safeguards for unions and fiduciary responsibilities for officials these are enforceable only by union members through lawsuits and the DOL does not have that authority under the statute. They do, however, have the authority to refer potential criminal cases to the Department of Justice. The DOL saw fit to do this only twice in the case of the International despite the numerous violations detailed in the monitor’s report. Both of these cases languished at the DOJ.
The catch-22 absurdity of the DOL’s sorry oversight of unions and inadequate enforcement was vividly demonstrated by a post hearing statement from another DOL official which took great pains to plead with the subcommittee to keep any documents sent them confidential. It explained at length that all audit information and results were confidential and not available to the membership or public, (as a matter of fact not even through the Freedom of Information Act). So we have the farcical scenario of one official maintaining the members are required to file lawsuits and the other official declaring that all audit membership is confidential. I felt deep disgust when I heard the DOL and DOJ officials state that they say no need for any procedural change in their respective agencies despite the egregious failure to do their job at the International (and one could add the Teamsters, Laborers and many other unions to the list).
I was aggressively assertive during the Hearing interrupting three times to get the chairman’s permission to speak. I challenged the DOL comments on putting the onus on the members to file lawsuits by again pointing out the fact that the DOL kept all audit information confidential and not available to the membership. At another point I brought up Hanley’s alleged organized crime connections and again raised the issue of the failure of the monitorship to recover any of the diverted union funds and the government’s tendency toward expediency rather than justice. Representative Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat, the ranking minority chairman, surprised me by saying, “Mr. Giblin I especially appreciate your frustration and the long years of attentiveness to this problem; your testimony will be very valuable to us.” I nodded my acknowledgment of his recognition.
As the Hearing neared lunchtime I realized it was almost over and I felt a sense of urgency. Knowing I was pushing the envelope I asked again to make a comment. Boehner said “yes but quickly”. I reinforced a comment by Mullenberg of the need for the DOL to have the ability to file lawsuits to ensure fiduciary responsibility of officers and then I said what I felt that “I fear that this is going to end without addressing what we are supposed to be addressing, and this is union democracy. We should be asking Mr. Mullenberg why the ability for the union members to directly elect their officers wasn’t implemented in this RICO action. We should be asking him whether the Review Board has the power and will exercise the power to bring democracy to this union. But they have made much of 47 recommendations, what about a recommendation for direct elections for these union members? This doesn’t take a prolonged legislative effort. This can be done very easily.”
Chairman Boehner ended the Hearing immediately after my comment. The Hearing turned out as I had feared: a political catharsis, with compromised legislators locked into their political stances more concerned with partisanship than mob corruption which held captive and exploited hundreds of thousands of American workers for decades. I wish I had called the subcommittee on it right then and there. I wish I had told them that the hearing was an exercise in political bullshit and left the hearing. I still fantasize myself doing that once in awhile.
The whole experience was a hard lesson in civics. I had always maintained some faith in
the political process despite years of reading reports of the ugly machinations of politicians
and despite the fact that I knew about union influence in politics. I knew about the Teamsters support of Nixon with massive contributions in the early Seventies and the subsequent release of Jimmy Hoffa from prison by Nixon. And Clinton had no reservations maintaining a relationship with Arthur Coia of the Laborers International inviting him to the White House, and accepting personal gifts, despite his alleged union ties with organized crime. When the media always alluded to the practical political motivation of politicians I usually felt they were being rather cynical and overlooking their humanity.
This Hearing was a wake up call in political realism for me and confirmed my worst fears about the integrity of politics. The Republican staff members were delighted with my performance "you did good” Lauren Fuller said smiling. I heard the same thing from some people I didn’t know. An FBI agent came over and shook my hand, “You’re the only person who said anything here today” he said.
I talked briefly with the Dateline producer. He admired my effort but I noticed they were interviewing the young man from Chicago and I was a bit surprised they weren’t interviewing me also for the upcoming program. What I realized later was that they weren’t going to cover the political reasons for corruption in the union. They were after entertainment value not investigative truth. After the hearing I went out with Chicago and San Francisco union witnesses and had a beer and sandwich with them. I had the feeling that while we didn’t expect much from the Hearings we all felt better by having testified.
I talked with Peter Gunas after the Hearing and asked him if there was any possibility of legislation, “not with these guys on the committee”, (meaning the Democrats )he said. In later conversation with him I had the feeling he might have been feeling me out about joining the staff, “you get things done” he said at one point. That may have been my imagination but as interesting as it would have been to get into the political process I could not, would not work on a Republican staff.
I received a from letter signed by Boehner informing me that under Title 18 of the US Code, any retaliation for my testimony is illegal and prohibited by law, (like I’m supposed to carry the letter around with me and show it to anybody that has a contract on me).
I was aware that there was now another element of risk in my appearance and testimony. They knew what I looked like now, (with beard) and they knew I was in North Carolina. They must be getting awfully fed up with me by now and I knew I was pushing the envelope.
They could even believe I was somehow responsible for the government intervention, (I wasn't; the government had that plan for some time); they didn’t know what information I gave the government, but likely attributed things like the revelation on the Wisconsin local to me. I doubted they would act while the government was still involved but one could never be sure about those things. I was in Chicago that Summer on a visit and thinking seriously about moving back to the city. I looked at condos on the north side and in Evanston. The city still had a deep hold on my psyche but I knew if moved back I would never feel comfortable answering the doorbell and ultimately I decided not to go back. Iknew I would always have a concern somewhere deep in my mind every time I went into a restaurant or bar, a fear that sooner or later I would run into someone who knew me, who hated me for what I had done and would act on that hatred.
Instead I went to D.C. where I spent the next two months trying to put together a civil RICO suit which would recover some of the millions stolen from the union over the years. I envisioned the suit as going against the former officers, the DOL and the accounting firm for their respective responsibility in the financial fraud of the union. I connected with Art Fox who agreed to help me find an attorney would do the suit. I had previously received assurance from the dissidents that they would join in the suit. I worked very hard day and night during those months researching the issues at the university law libraries and supplying the attorney with the facts I thought would support the case. I prepared a letter to be sent to local pro bono attorneys and waited for the attorney to make his move.
The move never happened. Fox, who has done a great deal for the labor movement, was busy filing a Supreme Court brief and then dealing with family affairs. I had the sense from the beginning he was operating more from obligation than motivation. I offered him an out, “Look”, I said, “I know you’ve got a lot going with your family and job, send the stuff back to me and I’ll take it from there”. He sounded relieved, “Sounds good” he said. I got the material back that week. In the interim the dissidents support started to fade. I contacted a number of pro bono attorneys directly who expressed little interest in the case.
The suit never developed, a shame because it would have set an important precedent in holding officers financially responsible for their corrupt acts and putting the DOL and the accounting profession on notice that they had better do their jobs. This would have been an important tool for members to use to protect their interests. It also would have provided the ability to recoup assets that had been diverted for personal use and provided for treble damages (if you can’t send them to jail, send them to the poorhouse). I have often felt that my “friends” in the reform effort have been almost as much a detriment to the cause as the Mafia types, at least one knew where they stood. The so-called reformers aren’t simply there for you when you need them, a reality that is the hardest of all to take.