LABOR "FELON": what the fall of Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D - Flushing) means for the union movement
Up until last week, Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D - Flushing) was one of the most powerful union leaders in New York City. Assemblyman McLaughlin was the president of the New York City Central Labor Council and a business agent in the J Division of Local Union # 3, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (the street light electricians division).
Assemblyman McLaughlin is also a millionare - he collects multiple union and government salaries totalling over $ 263,000 a year (not including ample expense accounts) and he lives in a $ 795,000 mansion in the wealthy North Shore of Long Island.
By contrast, even the most well paid electrician foremen make around $ 100,000 a year, most A Division construction electricians make less than $ 70,000, street light repair electricians in local 3's J Division (the workers McLauglin represents as a business agent) make no more than $ 48,000 and cable TV technicians and electrical supply warehouse workers in Local 3's B Division make less than $ 35,000.
If the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York can be believed, Assemblyman McLauglin was also a serial embezzler - allegedly stealing from the government, his own campaign, the Electricians Union and even the union's little league baseball team.
Ironically enough, the Electchester Athletic Association's slogan was "a child in sports stays out of the courts"
Perhaps Assemblyman McLaughlin should have spent a little more time out on the baseball diamond!!!
According to the feds, McLauglin, who is currently out on $ 250,000 bail, allegedly committed 44 seperate felonies - it took them 186 pages to list all of his alleged crimes!!!
If convicted, Brian may end up dying in a US Bureau of Prisons jumpsuit.
Of course, as any mafia lawyer will tell you "an indictment is not a conviction"
At the time of this writing, no jury has yet convicted Brian McLaughlin of any crime (and, if he goes out and hires the kind of expensive criminal defense lawyers that allegedly corrupt New York union officials typically do in such situations, he may not be convicted of anything)
Be that as it may, the feds claim McLaughlin allegedly robbed a lot of people - among other things, the assemblyman is accused of;
Stealing $ 185,000 from the New York City Central Labor Council;
Stealing $ 94,000 from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York's Coalition for the Dignity of Immigrants, by making them hire one of his cronies as director, and then pocketing the man's entire salary;
Stealing $ 35,000 from the New York State Assembly to create no show jobs for cronies - and then making them kick back a portion of their salaries;
Stealing $ 330,000 from his own campaign committee, to renovate his huge $ 795,000 Nissequogue, Long Island mansion, pay his country club dues, pay for his son's wedding rehersal dinner and to give a $ 5,000 gift to his daughter-in-law;
Stealing $ 140,000 from the bank account of the J Division of Local 3, IBEW to pay for membership in the North Hempstead Country Club and to cover one of his credit card bills;
Forcing electricians to chip in to buy his wife a $ 80,000 Mercedes Benz;
Extorting kickbacks from electricians who sell "mongo" (scrap metal) they took from construction sites;
Forcing electricians to be personal servants at his mansion (while they were on the clock at their regular jobs) - they did various tasks, including catching rats in the basement of his mansion, taking care of his dog, changing his lightbulbs, doing renovation work, painting and appliance repair;
Forcing electricians to drive his State Assembly staff car to and from Albany when he couldn't be so bothered to attend legislative sessions, so he could be paid for days he didn't report to work (McLaughlin has the second worst attendance record in the New York State Legislature - the only assemblyman who takes more days off from work than Brian is a National Guard major who was called up to fight in Iraq!!!);
Using funds intended for the Local 3 Electricians picnic to pay an $ 8,000 personal credit card bill (the feds say he told another union official "I gotta do a good ****ing chunk of that. That's what I ****ing need.");
Stealing $ 95,000 from the Electchester Athletic Association, the not for profit that runs the little league baseball program at Electricians Local 3's huge Flushing, Queens housing project, Electchester (the feds claim that Assemblyman McLaughlin was enraged when a team official dared to spend $ 2,800 on the children - he's said to have commented "All that ****ing money, he's ****ing spending on other stuff. That ain't his money, that's mine.");
Spending $ 21,900 of IBEW Local 3`s money on a female "friend" (McLaughlin had two other intimate female "friends" who also benefited financially from his alleged financial corruption);
There were even some odds and ends of McLaughlin`s alleged corruption that didn't quite make it into the indictment - like the fact that he represents the Electchester section of Flushing, Queens in the New York State Assembly but he actually lives in the Village of Nissequogue in the Town of Smithtown, Suffolk County - over 40 miles away from his actual district.
And, worst yet, Assemblyman McLaughlin allegedly recieved $ 400,000, a no show job for one of McLaughlin's female "intimate friends" and three luxury cars (one for himself, one for his son and one for yet another female "intimate friend") from Petrocelli Electric, Wellsbach Electric, S. N. Tannor Inc and Hylan Datacom & Electrical..
Out of all the alleged degenerate conduct the feds have accused Assemblyman McLaughlin of, this was the most damaging to union electricians.
Petrocelli, Wellsbach, S. N. Tannor and Hylan have the exclusive contract to maintain every single street light and traffic signal in the City of New York. Those four companies have held that monopoly for many many many years (and now it's becoming clear just HOW they got that no bid franchise and kept it for so long!!)
Apparently, Petrocelli, Welsbach, S. N. Tannor and Hylan have a "special relationship" with Electricians Local 3.
Part of that special relationship is the fact that the electricians who work for Petrocelli, Welsbach, S. N. Tannor and Hylan do NOT recieve full union pay and benefits, nor do they have full political rights in the New York City Electricians Union.
A Division construction electricians earn $ 41/hr in wages and $ 29.45 in benefits for a 7 hour day and 35 hour workweek. The roughly 12,000 A Division electricians are the only Local 3 IBEW members with the right to vote for local officers
The other 23,000 members in the other divisions of Local 3 IBEW are disenfranchised - and they make a whole less lot money.
This would include the J Division, who's electricians only make $ 23.80/hr in pay and $ 10.77/hr in benefits.
Basically, this means that the electricians who work for Wellsbach, Petrocelli, S. N. Tannor and Hylan get gypped out of $ 17.20/hr in pay and $ 18.68/hr in benefits for every hour they work - a huge subsidy for these four electrical contractors, and a major hardship for the hard working and highly skilled street light electricians.
Worse yet, back in 1998, McLaughlin is alleged to have let one of those street light contractors use even lower paid non union electricians to service street lights in Staten Island - in return for the alleged payoffs.
Incidentally, as is all too typical in construction labor racketeering cases, neither Wellsbach, Petrocelli, S. N. Tannor nor Hylan have been charged with any crime (despite the fact that the massive profits they made from substandard pay and benefits far exceed McLaughlin's alleged $ 2.2 million in graft).
Petrocelli, a firm with alleged ties to the Genovese crime family, has actually been rewarded with the contract to do the electrical work at the new World Trade Center.
They're not the only Ground Zero contractor who has alleged organized crime ties - concrete foundation contractor Laquilla Group has been accused of Gambino and Colombo family ties allegedly dating back to 1968 and alleged payoffs to the Concrete Laborers Union to let them use non union labor.
It's not clear precisely WHY the feds chose this time to crack down on Assemblyman McLaughlin's alleged kleptocratic regime.
Perhaps Wellsbach, Petrocelli, S. N. Tannor and Hylan tired of making the payoffs?
Historically, that's why the feds have leaned on New York construction unions who extracted payoffs in return for substandard wages for union tradespeople (that's why just about every construction union in New York is under some form of federal control - Carpenters, Building Laborers, Concrete Laborers, Operating Engineers, Plumbers, Roofers ect... Eventually, the bosses get tired of paying off unions to use non union labor and they end up going outright non union).
Up til this point, the Electricians have not been caught up in this pattern - apparently that's changed now - and, if the typical pattern prevails, the feds may look into a more widespread intervention in IBEW Local 3 internal affairs.
Beyond that, there are other questions that labor activists need to look at here.
Like the American labor movement's long and unhealthy one sided relationship with the Democrats (personified by Assemblyman McLaughlin, simultaneously a big wheel in the unions and the Democratic Party.)
And the corporate-like culture of executive excess that's all too common among union officials - expense account living, salaries far higher than what the members earn, using union funds to subsidize unemployable family members and extramarital sex partners ect.
There was a time when being a labor leader was a CAUSE, rather than a BUSINESS ...but those days are long past.
Beyond that, there's a broader culture of privilige prevailing in many unions - where a small section of a union's membership get decent wages and benefits at the expense of the lower paid majority of union members.
This is a way of life in almost all construction unions.
In the Electricians Union, this was formally institutionalized.
A small A Division had high pay and benefits and full political rights in the union, while the majority in the B and J Divisions had substandard pay and benefits, and no right to vote for union officers.
The A Division consists of only 12,000 workers, out of the total of 35,000 members in IBEW Local 3.
Even within the A Division, there are divisions of privilige - a small minority of so called "basic men" (the 10% of electricians who have ties to a particular contractor) work every day, while the 90% majority of so called "shop men" (electricians who work out of the union's Joint Industry Board hiring hall) are subject to periodic "furloughs" (layoffs) when work is slow.
Basically, there is a small elite of 1,200 union electricians who rule over their 34,000 brothers and sisters - and Assemblyman McLaughlin was the king of the basic men.
This is a serious problem in American labor unions - especially in an age of global competition, where bosses are reluctant to make payoffs for labor peace.
This doesn't bode well for the assemblyman - but, honestly, do we really care about his fate??? - other than hoping that the female companionship-loving assemblyman, he of the wife and 3 female "intimate friends", is somehow able to adjust to an all male penal system environment.
Far more important is the fate of what is still the strongest union in the construction industry. The Electricians have managed to escape the deunionization and court ordered intervention that has crippled most of the other building trades unions in this city - now, it looks like those days are over.
-commentary by GREGORY A. BUTLER, local 608 carpenter
for GANGBOX: CONSTRUCTION WORKERS NEWS SERVICE