- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2000

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney likes to style himself as the architect of a new and resurgent labor movement. Unfortunately for his membership, this year he is instead beholden to Al Gore.
During Mr. Sweeney's five-minute speech to the Democratic Convention, he was just another willing actor in the Democratic infomercial in Los Angeles, giving an unapologetic endorsement of Mr. Gore. Out in the streets, demonstrators decried Mr. Gore's support for free trade and globalization, but inside Mr. Sweeney only made the most fleeting reference to what is supposedly organized labor's biggest difference with Mr. Gore.
In the wake of the anti-WTO protests earlier this year in Seattle, much was made of greens and hard hats manning the barricades side-by-side. For the AFL-CIO leadership, it appears, coalition building goes only so far.
Mr. Sweeney's first instinct is survival. A Justice Department under an attorney general appointed by Al Gore is critically important to his continuance in office. Justice is monitoring clean-ups of major unions like the laborers (LIUNA) and hotel and restaurant employees (HERE). Under Janet Reno, these efforts have been half-hearted and even counterproductive. Things might be different under a Bush Justice Department. One only has to look at the Teamsters to see the havoc that can be wrought when a corrupt union is challenged internally by reformers and must have real elections.
Teamster President Ron Carey's demise was a defeat for Mr. Sweeney, but the damage may not be over. The Teamsters money-laundering scandal still lingers. Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan has won convictions of underlings like William Hamilton, the Teamsters' political director, but so far bigger fish have gone free. Those bigger fish include Richard Trumka, the loud bully who serves as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, and Gerald McEntee, the president of the large and growing American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCSME). Both played key roles in illegally laundering money into Mr. Carey's campaign and could still face criminal indictment. Both were also instrumental in securing the AFL-CIO endorsement for Al Gore.
Another underling nailed by Mary Jo White is Michael Ansara, a Boston-based political consultant. Even while he awaited sentencing for a felony conviction, the Gore campaign and the Democratic National Committee in the last year paid Mr. Ansara's phone bank hundreds of thousands of dollars. ABC-TV ran story on night two of the Democratic Convention on the Ansara connection during which an annoyed Trumka turned his back to ABC's cameras. The next day, the Gore campaign and the Democratic National Committee severed ties with the phone bank.
Ralph Nader is making the case that the AFL-CIO is selling out its members by selling its soul to globalist Al Gore. But even if one believes that free trade helps American workers rather than harms them, it is easy to make the case that Mr. Sweeney and his cohorts are hopelessly out of touch with their membership. No issue stirs the anger of rank and file union members more than union corruption. And organized labor is in the grips of what the New York Times last year termed a "wave of union corruption."
Even unions considered to be historically corruption-free like the United Auto Workers (UAW) have caught the disease. Twenty-one General Motors employees are suing the union and GM, claiming that UAW local bosses demanded jobs for relatives and improper overtime payments for ending a costly 1997 strike at GM's Pontiac truck plants. The allegations also are being probed by the FBI and Department of Labor.
When Mr. Sweeney was elected AFL-CIO president in 1995, he was generally considered to be clean. In the course of a widely-publicized scandal involving his old local of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in New York, it was reported that Mr. Sweeney had double-dipped on salary for 13 years. Honoring a time-honored tradition of corrupt labor bosses, he continued to collect a salary from the local after he became head of the national union. The New York scandal involved the plundering of the local by Gus Bevona, Mr. Sweeney's hand-picked successor. Mr. Bevona paid himself $500,000 per year.
The Sweeneys, Trumkas and McEntees may brag about a new labor movement, but on this Labor Day it is looking a lot like the old.

Peter Flaherty is president of the National Legal and Policy Center.

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