Labor's Voice for Change (59) August 6, 2009

Why Havenít There Been Any Cases of Corruption
Before the AFL-CIO Ethical Practices Committee?

By Harry Kelber


Although there is an AFL-CIO Committee on Ethical Practices, there is no evidence that it has tried any cases of corruption or abuse of power, or that its members have even held meetings over the years.

Surely, there have been examples of serious wrong-doing of various kinds that have caused incalculable harm to individuals and groups, but there has been no practical venue, except for the dormant Committee on Ethical Practices, for the plaintiffs to make their case within the labor movement.

The need for a functioning Ethical Practices committee became evident in the most embarrassing labor scandal in decades, involving more than 20 current and retired international union presidents who were directors of the Union Labor Life Insurance Company (ULLICO), an insurance company serving the needs of working people.

They were charged with engaging in insidersí stock trading, many of whom made substantial profits for themselves (for a total of more than $6.5 million) through special buying and selling of stocks between January 2000 and September 2001.

While AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and a few other directors didnít trade their ULLICO shares for profit, they did approve each stock transaction and the rules that enabled co-directors to reap huge profits. And they even voted to extend the time limit to give them five more months to cash in additional shares.

Although several government agencies thought the scandal was sufficiently serious to require an investigation, Sweeney never invoked the Ethical Practices committee to review the ULLICO scandal. The union officers on the companyís board (about 10 were members of the AFL-CIO Executive Council) never apologized for their misbehavior, and the Executive Council never asked them to resign-- or reprimand them.

Committee Would Hear and Rule on Cases of Misbehavior

A revitalized Committee on Ethical Practices could settle disputes within the labor movement and avoid having them publicized in the commercial media. It would provide a recourse for members who complain about undemocratic practices within their unions,

There should be an agreement on the number of committee members, their term of office and their responsibilities that should include the issuance of an annual report of their activities. And this information should be included within the AFL-CIO Constitution.

Ethical Practices committees should be created within each international union, as well as the AFL-CIO. They may also be set up in affiliated State Federations and Central Labor Councils.

I think it will be helpful to have a quasi-judicial court within the labor movement where union members and groups can turn to for a redress of their grievances, Anything wrong with that?

* * * * *

Itís no secret that there are labor leaders who abuse their authority and feel they can get away with it. If thereís a functioning Committee on Ethical Practices, they may have to be more respectful to union members. If I am elected as a Vice President of the 43-member AFL-CIO Executive Council, I shall do my best to defend the rights of members.óHarry Kelber

Article 60 of Laborís Voice for Change will be posted on Tuesday, August 11.