AFL-CIO Officer Takes the Fifth: According to Rule, Trumka Should Go

Article excerpt

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions about illegal funding of Teamsters President Ron Carey's re-election campaign, defying an AFL-CIO rule that requires expulsion of officials who take the Fifth.

Officials at the giant labor federation refused to answer questions from a federal election overseer about why Mr. Trumka - who is accused of misappropriating $200,000 in the effort to re-elect Mr. Carey - remains in his job as second-in-command to AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney.

For 40 years, the AFL-CIO and its affiliate unions have expelled officials who have invoked the Fifth Amendment. The policy was adopted in January 1957 by the AFL-CIO's executive council, which ruled that if a union official "decides to invoke the Fifth Amendment for his personal protection and to avoid scrutiny . . . into alleged corruption on his part, he has no right to continue to hold office in his union."

Later that year, the council adopted a resolution that said the policy does not mandate "automatic" expulsion. Instead, it called for unions to investigate officials who invoke the Fifth. "If it is found that the Fifth Amendment was in fact invoked as a shield to avoid discovery of corruption on his part, he has no right to continue to hold trade union office," the resolution said.

AFL-CIO officials refused to say whether they are investigating Mr. Trumka. They were equally unresponsive to other requests for information in repeated telephone calls over the past two days.

The expulsion policy was reaffirmed in 1985, when AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland wrote that it "made good sense 27 years ago and continues to make good sense today."

In 1991, the rule was used to suspend Carmen Parise from his job as secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 436 in Cleveland for two years. Mr. Parise had threatened to savagely beat a union member who was secretly tape-recording the threat. The Teamsters were forced out of the AFL-CIO in 1957 and weren't readmitted for 30 years.

In September of this year, just days after U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White implicated Mr. Trumka in the Teamsters scandal, the AFL-CIO adopted a new "Ethical Practices Code" that some say was designed to protect Mr. Trumka.

The new code, enacted at the AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh, makes no mention of expelling officials who invoke the Fifth Amendment. Rather, it calls for the expulsion of any officer "who is convicted of any felony involving the infliction of grievous bodily injury, any crime of dishonesty or any crime involving abuse or misuse of . . . position."

A source close to the Trumka case said the ethics code does not supersede the 1957 Fifth Amendment rule, which remains in effect. …