- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

LAS VEGAS The AFL-CIO yesterday spoke out against the 12-year federal oversight of the Teamsters that was intended to eliminate organized crime influence from the union.

A resolution adopted at the national labor federation's annual convention in Las Vegas by the nearly 1,000 delegates from 66 affiliated unions said, "The goals of the consent decree have now been secured. No legitimate reason remains to justify continued government intervention in that organization."

Although the AFL-CIO always opposed government intervention in union affairs, the resolution adopted yesterday marked the first time the labor group specifically opposed the Justice Department's monitoring of the Teamsters.

In 1989, the Justice Department invoked anti-racketeering laws to file a lawsuit against the Teamsters and wrest control from its leaders. Several of the union officials had been charged with racketeering after they were accused of being under the control of Mafia figures.

In one case, former Teamsters President Roy Lee Williams admitted days before his death that reputed Kansas City Mafia leader Nick Civella sometimes would try to influence union operations, with the primary suspicion focusing on possible money-laundering involving the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund.

To avoid a federal takeover, the Teamsters agreed to a consent decree in federal court that allowed them to continue operating but only under Justice Department supervision.

"The Teamsters have more than met the objectives imposed by the 1989 consent decree," Teamsters President James P. Hoffa said yesterday at the Las Vegas convention. "Our actions prove that we can and are running a clean and democratic union."

Union officials complain that federal supervisors sometimes impose their will on routine labor contract negotiations and disputes between union officials and employers. The consent decree also required the Teamsters to pay the cost of the federal oversight, which so far has been about $100 million and nearly bankrupted the union. Much of the money paid the salaries of the federal supervisors.

"To the extent they're still there, they're involved in matters that are none of their business," said Patrick Szymanski, Teamsters general counsel.

The last union official to be charged by the Justice Department in the racketeering scandal left the 1.4-million member Teamsters five years ago, he said. Teamsters officials say they have adopted a code of conduct and constitutional amendments that will ensure no return to organized crime influence.

"Unions are supposed to be governed by their members, not the federal government," Mr. Szymanski said.

AFL-CIO leaders took a similar position at their convention.

"It is highly undemocratic for the government to intervene as it did in the first place and certainly to maintain it in perpetuity," said Laurence E. Gold, AFL-CIO associate general counsel. "At some point these things have to end and now is the time."

Also yesterday, AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney was re-elected to a four-year term as head of the 13-million member national labor federation.

Mr. Sweeney and other top AFL-CIO leaders ran unopposed. He originally won the top post in 1995, during the first contested election in AFL-CIO history, under the theme of "A New Voice" for America's workers.

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