- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

John Sweeney has made an art this election season of railing against corporate cheats. Just two weeks ago, for example, the AFL-CIO chief addressed his brothers and sisters at the Baltimore Teachers Union headquarters. "Are you on the side of the Enrons, the Tycos, the WorldComs, who take care of their CEOs with obscene salaries and golden parachutes," he demanded of the faithful, "or the workers they've dumped in the street with no severance pay and no pensions?"
If labor's brothers and sisters are looking for the heads of fat cats, they needn't go further than the family. Just that week, for example, a trial opened at the federal courthouse in Washington against top officials at the Iron Workers affiliate of Mr. Sweeney's AFL-CIO. The charge? An obscene salary and golden parachute.
In an effort to stave off an election challenge by his general-secretary, LeRoy Worley, the Iron Workers' scandal-ridden president, Jake West, urged him to retire. Mr. Worley's decision was made easier with a generous pension plan one for which Mr. Worley was explicitly unqualified. What's more, after his retirement, Mr. Worley continued to turn up on the payroll as an active employee. Indeed, he was paid a full year's worth of salary and per diem in advance, amounting to more than $200,000. All told, Mr. Worley stood to gain more than $350,000 that year.
West recently pleaded guilty to the scam. Mr. Worley maintains his innocence. So what did Mr. Sweeney say about West's admission? An AFL-CIO spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the union is "not up-to-date" on their affiliate's matters and has "no role at all" in its business. The Iron Workers' press office, meanwhile, referred all queries to the union's general counsel, who did not return calls for comment.
Mr. Worley and West aren't the unions' only suspected pension scammers. A grand jury is deliberating returning indictments against officials at Ullico, an investment consortium that includes 32 union bosses among them Mr. Sweeney and others affiliated with the AFL-CIO entrusted with managing pension funds from a number of unions. After Global Crossing went belly-up, many of Ullico's officials took advantage of an accounting loophole to dump their now-worthless stock at previous highs. Needless to say, the same sweetheart deal wasn't afforded to the rank-and-file, who ended up paying for it all.
Meanwhile, prosecutors in New York continue to bag union officials and mobsters in cases stemming from a Mafia scheme to bribe officials of three unions to invest $300 million in pension fund assets in a mob-infested investment house. Some of the companies to be invested in were "stuff that smells like rose petals," according to a broker caught on an FBI bug. The rest would be dirty enterprises. So far, more than 90 defendants have pleaded guilty or been convicted.
Needless to say, Mr. Sweeney doesn't rail against these looters. But then, perhaps that's because he has had his own problems with obscene salaries and golden parachutes.
In 1999, Mr. Sweeney acknowledged that he'd been double-dipping for 13 years, drawing hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary from his old Service Employees International Union local in New York City after he had moved on to become the union's president in 1981. When inquisitive reporters asked him about the unusual arrangement in 1999, Mr. Sweeney claimed he'd been actively engaged in the local's business and had earned every penny of the salary. Part of that business, it turns out, was to maintain Gus Bevona, the local's notoriously corrupt president.
Mr. Bevona, whose salary topped out at $531,529 in 1997, ruled over the city's maintenance workers like a petty dictator. But when two janitors began to raise questions about his lavish lifestyle he lived in a luxurious lair built atop his local's headquarters and filed suit against him, the head janitor used union funds to hire a private detective to dig up dirt on the troublemakers. As a board member, Mr. Sweeney signed off on the deal. That enterprise earned the union a $100,000 fine from a federal judge, and the two janitors agreed to drop their case only when Mr. Bevona agreed to step down in 1999. Which he did with a board-approved, $1.5 million in severance and vacation pay. Mr. Sweeney again said nothing.
There's no doubt that heads should roll for the white-collar arrogance that fleeced investors. But, when Mr. Sweeney warns against business-as-usual, union members would do well to remember that sometimes the pension raiders' shirts are blue.

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