Laborers local 1001 wants Burris at helm

Date:  Thu Jan 23, 2003  1:36 am

January 20, 2003
City local wants Burris at helm
Laborers’ exec in D.C. skeptical
By John Keilman Tribune staff reporter

Roland Burris said Sunday he has the experience to clean up a union local that has asked him to take charge,but the man who must approve the deal said the former Illinois attorney general might not be the best choice.

Local 1001 of the Laborers International Union of North America, whichrepresents about 2,700 city employees, had a top official expelled two years ago for alleged mob ties. It is now under pressure from its national organization to give control to an outsider who would have authority over all union operations, from issuing paychecks to firing employees.

The local is pushing Burris, a former state comptroller and three-time candidate for governor.

However, Robert Luskin, a union lawyer in Washington, D.C., who is in
charge of fighting corruption, must approve the appointment. He said
Sunday he was “not favorably disposed” toward Burris.
“I’ve no reason to doubt his credentials, his reputation or anything
like that,” Luskin said. “The question is really, from our
perspective, whether he’s got a skill set that matches the job
responsibilities. Having not spoken to him, I don’t know.”
Burris said that his long government service had given him plenty of
relevant experience.
“There is nothing magic about investigations,” he said. “I’ve been a
CEO. I’ve run things. I’ve been the state’s top legal officer, where we’ve
investigated everything from murder to drug dealers. . . . I know
how a union runs. It runs like everything else.”

Luskin said whoever takes over a local–typically for about 18
months–must know how unions operate and where corruption might lie,
whether in crooked pension schemes or sweetheart deals with
contractors. It’s not clear that Burris has such experience, he said.
Prodded by the U.S. Justice Department, the laborers have been trying
since 1995 to scour their ranks of alleged organized crime ties. In 1998,
the national organization took over the Chicago District Council, an
umbrella group of locals.

The next year, the Laborers International Union and the Justice
Department filed a civil racketeering lawsuit, alleging the district
council had been dominated by the mob for three decades.
In 2001, the union expelled Bruno Caruso, business manager of Local
1001, accusing him of being a puppet for mob bosses.
At a meeting Sunday, Burris was introduced to union members, some of
whom held signs that said, “Burris — Yes!”
He said afterward that he would benefit from having no ties to the
union, including not receiving contributions from the local for his
various campaigns.
If the local and Luskin cannot agree on a supervisor, the matter will
be turned over to an independent union hearing officer. But some
people don’t expect it to go that far.

“We think that we can convince Mr. Luskin that we’re very fortunate to
have the outstanding services of the [former] attorney general. Who
can possibly say no to Roland Burris?” said Grayson Mitchell, a
spokesman for the local.

Luskin said he has never allowed a local to pick its own supervisor and
is inclined to choose an internal official who has experience in cleanups.

“Over eight years we’ve gotten very good at what we’re doing,” he said.
“We’ve honed some skills that are associated with the job we’ve got and
have a good idea of what’s necessary. We simply under no circumstances
are going to select anybody who doesn’t have those skills, no matter
how distinguished they may be. It’s not an honorary position.”

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