Sounds Nice, but It's Antiunion: The Labor Racketeering Bill

Article excerpt

Sounds Nice, But It's Antiunion

The labor racketeering bill now before Congress has juggled the traditional lineup of labor's friends and foes. Among those favoring the measure, formally titled the Labor-Management Racketeering Act, are seventy-five senators, the dissident Teamsters for a Democratic Union and A.F.L.-C.I.O. president Lane Kirkland. Opposing it are leaders of the conservative building trade unions, liberal Democrats in the House and civil libertarians. Under the provisions of the bill, a lawbreaking union leader would be removed from office for ten years upon the date of a trial court conviction; in contrast, current law imposes a five-year debarment only after the final appeal has been rejected.

Last June, the Senate passed the bill by a unanimous vote. The principal sponsors were Orrin Hatch of Utah and Sam Nunn of Georgia; both men consistently draw low ratings for their voting records on labor issues from the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s Committee on Political Education. But Edward Kennedy, who draws high approval ratings, was a co-sponsor of the bill, along with several other Democratic liberals.

With that kind of backing, the bill seemed assured to pass quickly in the House, but it met unexpected resistance in the Subcommittee on Labor-Management Relations. Chairman William Clay and a number of leading progressive Democrats who normally support the labor federation were troubled by the bill's implications and are scrutinizing it.

Hatch and Nunn were reportedly incensed by the delay and have vowed to block Senate votes on any legislation that originated in the Clay subcommittee until their bill gets to the House floor. Meanwhile, some trade unionists have had second thoughts and are disassociating themselves from the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s stand. This group is centered around J.C. Turner, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers, a blunt leader of the George Meany mold but without the latter's rigidity. Turner's reputation for honesty is unblemished.

The term "labor racketeering' immediately puts unions on the defensive. It is difficult to argue against a bill that would prevent convicted union leaders from clinging to power during the lengthy appeals process. Nevertheless, the bill also raises serious questions relating to civil liberties, discrimination and the role of the Federal government in union affairs.

Advocates of the bill call it an important reform, but it is just a slight adjustment to the Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959, which first injusted the Federal government deeply into union affairs. That law debars officials who have been convicted of violating the statute's requirement for reporting union finances as well as those who have committed any number of offenses unrelated to union affairs: robbery, burglary, assault, drug violations and the like. The five-year debarment excludes the official not only from his own union but from any other union or "any group dealing with any labor organization.' It is not limited to national union figures; officers and stewards of the approximately 60,000 local unions in the United States are included.

The Landrum-Griffin Act has many other restrictive provisions. The act dictates the content of union constitutions and bylaws. It decrees how dues increases must be implemented. It prescribes internal disciplinary procedures. It establishes the frequency of local and national union elections and procedures for removing union officers, and regulates the conduct of those elections. It gives the Secretary of Labor the power to send Federal agents to investigate union affairs "when he believes it necessary'--a power the Reagan Administration plans to invoke to conduct nearly 2,000 audits of union finances this year, compared with 212 in 1980.

The labor racketeering bill expands the list of crimes punishable by debarment and of posts from which a guilty unionist is excluded. …