For union leadership jobs, it pays well to have family ties

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Labor unions are dedicated to ensuring every worker an equal voice, but it helps to have the right last name.

For the Laborers Local 1015 in Canton, Ohio, that name is Mayle. Fourteen staffers and officers oversee $1.7 million in assets for 685 members, but five of them, including the treasurer, auditor and business manager, belong to the Mayle clan.

At Kentucky’s Laborers 1445, five of 17 officials are named Oney. They are business manager Johnny W., who makes $80,000; Johnny N., who makes $61,000; auditor Roger, treasurer Mitchell, and secretary Rhonda.

“Johnny N. is the field rep, he’s my son. When it comes to hiring him, I make my recommendations and the executive board does what they want to do,” the business manager said. His brother Roger is auditor, and Mitchell Oney, until two years ago, sat on the executive board as treasurer. Rhonda Oney, who “sleeps with my brother,” Mr. Oney joked, answers phones.

Teamsters 710 of Mokena, Ill., pays its treasurer, Patrick W. Flynn, $435,000 a year, but that wasn’t enough. Both his son and daughter have taken jobs at the union. President Michael Sweeney brought on his sister Maureen at a $60,000 salary, while trustee James Dawes, who received a $215,000 bonus, brought on his daughter for $45,000, tax records show.

These cozy relationships are even worse among labor’s elites in the marble palaces of Washington’s national headquarters.

“It’s becoming impossible to find anyone at the Laborers’ International Union who has ever actually worked the trade beyond a summer or two while they attended the Harvard Labor College,” said a longtime national official within the Laborers’ International Union of North America who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation.

“How can you represent working men and women when you’ve never had to really work a day in your life as a construction laborer? These sons and grandsons of laborers have never suffered through a long layoff, or seared in the heat of the day, or frozen in the cold of a winter outside on a job site.”

Armand E. Sabitoni is treasurer of the Laborers national union, making $425,000 a year, with at least two relatives on staff. Five members of the Sabitoni family are officers at Laborers locals.

Complex network

A complex network of pension and other funds spans the family’s tentacles through every branch of the union and provides ample opportunity to boost salaries far beyond what is evident in the payrolls of the union’s main offices.

Michael A. Sabitoni Jr., for example, is president of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, and is also chairman of the Rhode Island Laborers’ Pension Fund, the Rhode Island Laborers’ Health and Welfare Fund and the Rhode Island Laborers’ Annuity Fund.

He is also trustee of the New England Laborers’ Training Trust Fund, the New England Laborers’ Labor-Management Cooperation Trust and the New England Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund.

“There’s a whole host of trusts,” said Nathan Mehrens, a top Department of Labor attorney under President George W. Bush. “Interconnected entities that are technically distinct from the union itself, but provide ample compensation.”

At the 57,000-member International Brotherhood of Boilermakers national headquarters, four members of the Creeden family received a combined $836,000 a year, with Secretary-Treasurer William Creeden making $300,000 and directors Kyle Creeden and Ryan Creeden making more than $143,000 each.

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