April 7, 2007

Chief of Struggling Union Among Highest Paid


The union representing East Coast dockworkers has been hemorrhaging assets and members in the past two years, according to a new financial report. Yet the union's president was paid twice as much as several labor leaders who head unions more than 30 times larger.

The union, the International Longshoremen's Association, paid its president, John Bowers, $587,078 last year, according to the annual report that the union submitted to the federal government late last month. That made him one of the nation's highest-paid union officials. Mr. Bowers's son John Jr., a union vice president, was paid $292,440 last year, the report said.

The report is another indication of trouble for the union, which the federal government has sued in a civil racketeering lawsuit that is seeking to have a trustee take control of the union because of its longtime ties to organized crime.

Membership in the union, which represents dockworkers from Maine to Texas, dropped to 43,500 in 2006, from 59,000 two years earlier, according to the report. That 26 percent drop occurred even though the nation's ports, including huge ones in Newark and Elizabeth, N.J., were handling record volumes.

The report also disclosed that the union's assets fell to $33.8 million last year, down 34 percent from $51.1 million two years earlier.

''The union is in crisis,'' said Tony Perlstein, secretary-treasurer-elect of a longshoremen's local in Bayonne, N.J., and a co-chairman of the Longshore Workers Coalition, a union caucus. ''More and more work is going nonunion, the contract has been gutted, and the leaders continue to line their pockets. It's a waste of union resources.''

James McNamara, a union spokesman, defended the pay for top officials, saying that Mr. Bowers had led the union for 20 years and that the salaries had been approved by the union's delegates.

In explaining the decline in assets as well as the union's $10 million operating deficit last year, Mr. McNamara noted that the union had donated $1 million to help longshoremen on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina devastated that region.

Mr. McNamara said the union's legal costs had skyrocketed in response to the federal lawsuit, which seeks to impose a trusteeship on the union because of ''decades of evidence relating to corruption and organized-crime influence with the union.'' The lawsuit, filed in July 2005, has not yet gone to trial.

When the United States attorney in Brooklyn, Roslynn R. Mauskopf, brought that lawsuit, she asserted that the Gambino crime family had long controlled the longshoremen's operations in Brooklyn and Staten Island, while the Genovese family dominated its operations in Manhattan and New Jersey.

The elder Mr. Bowers responded to the lawsuit by asserting that the union had largely rid itself of mob involvement and by hiring former prosecutors and judges to lead an anticorruption effort.

But federal law enforcement officials who have long tracked the mob's influence on the union -- and prosecuted some crime figures who helped control it and union officials who benefited from the corruption -- maintain that organized crime still holds sway over the union. The union's corruption was the inspiration for the 1954 film ''On the Waterfront.''

The legal fees for the parent union and its Atlantic Coast District were $3.6 million last year, the report said, with $2.5 million going to the law firm of Thomas W. Gleason, a son of the union's former president. His brother Robert E. Gleason is secretary-treasurer of the national union, with a salary of $413,580.

By comparison, the West Coast dockworkers' union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, paid its president, James Spinosa, $150,183 in 2005, including allowances and reimbursements on top of his base salary of $114,413. That union reported having 42,000 members.

The Service Employees International Union, which reported 1.8 million members, paid its president, Andrew L. Stern, $258,731 last year, including allowances and reimbursements. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which reported having 1.4 million members, gave its president, James P. Hoffa, $335,657 last year, including allowances and reimbursements.

According to reports filed with the federal Department of Labor, Mr. Bowers, president of the longshoremen's union, received $413,556 in salary from the parent union; $164,117 in salary from its Atlantic Coast District, an umbrella group of several locals; and $9,405 in expenses for official business from the Atlantic district.

Mr. McNamara said that membership had declined partly because of increased automation. He also acknowledged that the 59,000 membership number for 2004 might have been inflated.

The national union and the Atlantic district also spent $21,516 on season tickets for the Mets last year, the report said. Mr. McNamara said, ''The Mets tickets are part of our publicity and promotion and are donated mostly to our children's fund for charitable work.''

Mr. Perlstein of the Longshore Workers Coalition asserted that the union's assets were falling because of unusually high executive board salaries and out-of-control legal costs. Another factor, he said, is that dues payments are dropping because of declining membership and lower wages for new hires. Mr. Perlstein criticized the union's leaders for negotiating several lower-wage tiers for new hires. With union dues calculated as a percentage of wages, the lower wage tiers translate into lower dues payments.

Milton Mollen, a former New York State judge who is serving as the union's ethical-practices officer, said yesterday that he would propose barring the union's executive officers from also receiving salaries from union locals.

Leonard Riley, a co-chairman of the Longshore Workers Coalition, said, ''If the union's rank and file were truly empowered and were able to put a value on the job that our leaders are doing, they wouldn't pay them nearly as much.''