Troubles run deep for key labor union in D.C.

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The Laborers' Union has one of the most entrenched bureaucracies in the labor movement. Eight of its executive board’s 13 members have been in their posts more than a decade.

The Laborers employed Richard Banel, in 2000 and 2001, at a salary of $50,000, and agreed to hire his wife, Sue Fox Smith, as a receptionist at an affiliated trust as part of the package.

When Ms. Smith, a former lobbyist, sought a transfer to a more challenging job, managers said she could not because she did not belong to a union, even though she worked for one.

“The trust fund which I currently worked for was not a union shop. Can you say hypocrites?” she said.

So she approached the AFL-CIO about unionizing the administrative members of the Laborers headquarters under that union — and said Laborers management was less than pleased with the prospect.

Union President Terry O’Sullivan “called my husband into his office and said ‘what the hell is your wife trying to do?’” she told The Times by email.

The AFL-CIO was eager to set up a vote.

But “when it came lunchtime and the staff was to vote to be members, management decided that was the day they would take all the staff out for pizza, and no one showed up to vote,” Mrs. Smith said.

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