Friday, March 14, 2014

Look for the Union Label- NLRB Accuses Longshoreman's Union of Threatening to Rape Family Members of Grain Terminal Manager; Buffalo Area Union Boss Found Guilty of Racketeering

The National Labor Relations Board has accused striking dockworkers from the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union of assaulting security guards hired by United Grain at the port of Vancouver, WA and in at least one instance, locked out ILWU workers had threatened to sexually assault the daughter of a United Grain manger during a yearlong lockout.

The most shocking accusations are contained in Hooks’ case against International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 4 in Vancouver.

After investigating charges filed by the company, Hooks alleged longshore picketers shone spotlights into vehicles entering and exiting United Grain’s terminal, blocking drivers’ vision and causing permanent eye injury to a security officer. Hooks alleged locked-out workers recklessly pursued company vans, threatened to harm Columbia River pilots and pinned a security officer’s leg under a moving vehicle.

Hooks alleged that Local 4 members “threatened to rape the daughter of one of the employer’s managers,” and implied threats to harm a manager’s children by telling him they would “see his children at school” and asking, “are (his) children okay today?”

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this is not that members of the international Longshoreman and Warehouse union were capable of this, but the accusations come from a NLRB board perceived by critics as being packed with individuals far more sympathetic to labor bosses than business.

This would not be the first time in recent years an ILWU Local in Washington state resorted to threats, extortion and intimidation during a contract dispute. In 2011, members of the ILWU Local 21 in Columbia, WA blocked trains, cut air lines and dumped grain from rail cars, vandalized vehicles belonging to non-union employees at the port and threatened security guards with baseball bats and axe-handles during a dispute with EGT Grain in Longview. A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against ILWU Local 21 and the Cowlitz County Sheriff's Department arrested more than 100 workers on various charges. The Longshoreman's Union then attempted to launch a recall campaign against Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson, which went absolutely nowhere.

Meanwhile, on the other side, the president of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 17 in Buffalo, NY was found guilty in a federal court of running a criminal enterprise out of the IUOE Local.

Prosecutors claim the criminal conduct by Operating Engineers Local 17 touched many of the region’s biggest construction projects, including Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Ralph Wilson Stadium, and added millions of dollars to the cost of those projects.

The verdict, which came after a six-week trial featuring 80 witnesses, ends a prosecution that began with the indictment of 12 union members in 2008.

Most of those defendants eventually pleaded guilty, but five elected to stand trial, and four of those five were found not guilty Friday.

At the heart of the case was the allegation that a “Local 17 Criminal Enterprise” operated from 1997 through 2007 with the intention of forcing construction companies into hiring its members and punishing those that refused.

The defendants were accused of vandalizing work sites by pouring a sandlike abrasive into the engines of heavy machinery and throwing sharp metal objects called “stars” under the tires of trucks.

In one instance, a Local 17 member, Michael J. Caggiano, was accused of stabbing the president of a local company in the neck with a knife.

The verdict followed a trial in which the prosecution painted Local 17 as a union knee-deep in corruption.

Dozens of contractors and former union members, many of them testifying as part of plea deals with the government, took the witness stand to tell stories of threats, fear and vandalism.

In the end, the jury found Kirsch, the union’s longtime president and business manager and a well-known figure in government and political circles, responsible for much of the wrongdoing.

They also found him to be part of a racketeering conspiracy that prosecutors claim existed at Local 17

The FBI, which also played a major role in the investigation, said the verdict is simply the last chapter in a story of how Local 17’s “pompous attitudes and violence-riddled acts had a tremendous impact on this city.”

“The union members who pleaded guilty and were found guilty in this case made honest working people go to work in fear of being stabbed or assaulted, even more so than I do as a law enforcement officer,” said Brian P. Boetig, special agent in charge of the FBI in Buffalo.

Kirsch will be sentenced at a later date- the charges carry a maximum of 20 yeears.

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