LaborTalk (Labor Day 9/4/06)
Sweeney Took Huge Payoffs from Former Local
For 13 Years, While Serving as SEIU President
By Harry Kelber
Editor, "The Labor Educator"
JOHN SWEENEY WAS PAID hundreds of thousands of dollars over a 13-year period when he left his post as president of Local 32B-32J, a janitors' local union, in 1981 to become president of the parent Service Employees International Union, according to records of the U.S. Department of Labor.
From 1982 through 1994, Sweeney received a total of at least $449,642 from the Local 32B-32J treasury, government documents reveal, in addition to his substantial six-figure salary as SEIU president.
The yearly handouts to Sweeney came from a private quid pro quo deal he had worked out with Gus Bevona, who took over the local union and who achieved widespread notoriety for his $412,000 annual salary, his union-paid penthouse and the $1.5 million "golden parachute" from the local when he was compelled to retire.
In 1982, Sweeney's first full year as SEIU president, he pocketed $19,459 from the local union, but that amount ballooned to an average $70,000 in the ensuing years when Bevona cooked up a novel title, "executive adviser," for him, through an amendment to the union's constitution.
Denise Mitchell, Sweeney's spokeswoman, who also runs the AFL-CIO Public Affairs Department, defended her boss's voracious "double-dipping" by saying he went back to the New York local union periodically to help with the local's affairs, including the negotiations.
Sweeney himself said at the time: "I work for that salary. I work very closely with the officers of that local and I am heavily involved in the activities of that local."
As SEIU president, Sweeney was obligated to help local affiliates throughout the country when they needed his advise and assistance. That was his job. That is what he was being paid for. What else did he do for 32B-32J that entitled him to an extra tens of thousands of dollars a year for 13 years? And in a local union whose members have an average annual income of less than $30,000.
How Sweeney and Bevona Arranged to Loot Each Other's Union
Now here is another outrageous part of this labor scandal. At the same time that Sweeney was collecting annual payoffs from Local 32B-32J, he put Bevona on the SEIU payroll as international vice president at a salary of $79,194 a year! And despite the fact that elected SEIU vice presidents were getting $32, 091 a year!
While all the available evidence appears to make Sweeney guilty of greedy and immoral behavior and conduct unbecoming an officer of a trade union, he should be given an opportunity to publicly justify in detail why he was entitled to the money he received from Local 32B-32J and to explain why he put Bevona on the SEIU payroll at that unwarranted salary.