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IUOE Seeks To Thwart Open Labor Websites
Fearful of Information Exposing Corruption and Lack Of Transparency

By Steve Zeltzer

THE GROWING USE OF WEB sites by union activists and union election slates has now led to efforts to control such use by the International Union Of Operating Engineers IUOE. In a memo sent out on Januay 12, 2007 by International President Vincent J. Giblin, the union announces that as a result of websites "non-members, including employers, have access to sensitive information."

The IUOE although small within the national labor movement is extremely powerful since it's members can halt construction sites throughout the US and Canada and also maintain and run thousands of buildings throughout the US and Canada.

Giblin said the 450,000 member union was "concerned about the ability of "unscrupulous non-members to take advantage of website-generated information to harm Locals in negotiations and organizing, as well as the potential of such non-members to intervene improperly in the elections themselves.

Using this justification, the International Executive Board passed a resolution last year in Phoenix, Arizona that requires any election "campaign websites" to have a "membership-related password protection function using members' register number or another appropriate mechanism to identify membership status." Failure to do this will be punished. "existing websites have until April 15, 2007 to comply or be faced with internal union disciplinary sanctions."

Behind this new policy is not the fear of non-members or employers but the earthshaking events in the largest local within the Operating Engineers Local 3 which represents 41,000 operators and other workers in Northern California, Utah, Nevada and Hawaii.

In the last election, the Gold Slate which ran against the John Bonilla and the Unity Ticket was elected. John Bonilla had collaborated with the Donald Dozer administration to pay him off if he would not run again. The Gold Slate used their powerful website www.goldticket.org (no longer online) to fully expose the myriad conflicts of interest and nepotism in the Local including the business manager Donald Dozer and the support of Dozer by John Bonilla and his supporters. Dozer had the notoriety of having one of the largest compensation benefits of any union official in the United States taking home $807,626 in 2004. This included his salary from the Local and the International. He is now under investigation by the NLRB for illegal compensation through transfer of sick pay benefits from other employees to his account and other violations of labor law.

The Gold Ticket led by Russ Burns swept the election and committed to set up a transparent administration with accountability and transparency. An important part of the victory was the ability to put on the slate not only their program and agenda but also the specific corruption and conflicts of interests going on within the Local including collusion of the contractors. Legal documents provided evidence for the members that the administration had misused their power and authority to harm the interests of the members. Dozer had given away control of money to contractors and had led the local to a massive loss in pension funds with no accountability. The top down centralized structures of not just most locals in the IUOE but throughout the labor movement has led to a growing corruption crisis and scandal. The lack of checks and balances and membership control is completely tied in fact to the lack of information and transparency at all levels of many unions.

The following is the proposed democratic bylaw changes proposed by this slate now that they have won office:
Returning dues to the membership by creating a fair and equitable dues structure for all was the focus of the elected Bylaws Committee. Since the Bylaws Resolution was passed by the membership at the Semi-Annual Meeting and will now go before the membership at large in each district, this vision is one step closer to a reality.

  • Financial reports will be presented to the membership on a quarterly basis in Engineers News beginning in May or June of this year, and reports will also be available online at www.oe3.org.

    Staff salaries have been reviewed, so the Executive Board could set competitive salaries for field staff. As a result of this review, officers have taken a pay freeze through 2009, staff pension hours have been reduced from 55 to 48 and field staff have been brought up to market-rate competitive salaries. Increases are now tied to master construction wagerate groups.

  • Every issue of Engineers News will now be full-color, printed in-house and with a Letters to the Editor section.

  • Freedom of speech Printed pieces on union issues or political commentary that are distributed in the districts to members or anything of this nature should include a name, since members need to know who to contact about this information."

    These changes are like an earthquake for many locals of the International. The fear that many business managers and the International have now is that this reform movement will spread nationally and create even further exposures and changes similar to the developments in the Local 3 struggle. They in fact are absolutely right. The latest election struggle around similar issues is in IUOE Local 150 with over 22,000 members in the Chicago Mid-West area. It is the second largest local in the International and a reform slate taking power in this local would seriously begin to threaten the control of the International including possible changes in the constitution to allow locals to elect business agents and require the posting on all web sites of salaries and expenses of union locals and their staff.

    It is in this context, that the issue of labor websites becomes a critical issue. Many members of the Operating Engineers are spread out over hundreds and even thousands of miles working different shifts and completely inaccessible to meetings in many cases. Only the internet and web pages can offer these members instantaneous information and transparency about how their local is operating. Running for office against entrenched administration can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and requires taking large amounts of time off work to campaign. Websites and election campaign videos such are now playing on youtube and other sites evening out the playing field and allow members to download flyers and information for other members without the substantial costs of mailing out union campaign literature.

    It is for this very reason that the International is seeking to clamp down on web sites used in election campaigns and threatening to prevent members and slate of members punishment if they do not go along with the new rules. Many IUOE members like members of other unions in the United States are fearful of retaliation of their business agent or union officer finds out that they are looking at supporting an opposition slate within a union election. In some locals, members are afraid to even sign petitions to nominate members for elections. The need to "sign in" would in fact identify those members who are looking at opposition slates and their programs and issues.

    In IUOE Local 39 which is the largest stationary local in the country and has over 20,000 members in Northern California and Nevada, it takes over 200 signatures to even get on the ballot for business manager. Candidates such as IUOE Local 39 stationary engineer Paul Mueller was even physically threatened by the business manager at a union meeting for attempting to run for president of the Local. Perry Bonilla the number 2 man in the Local 39 which is run by present Business Manager Jerry Kalmar is also a brother of deposed union official John Bonilla in IUOE Local 3. There has not been an election in Local 39 for over 7 years. It indeed is a small world.

    This intimidation and threats against union members who challenge or question union administrations is not only common in IUOE Local 39 but within many locals of the International and other unions within the US. This IUOE new website procedure called the "Campaign Website Resolution" is presently being challenged and will likely be ruled illegal but it clearly provides evidence of the growing power of the internet among rank and file workers along with those who challenge the administrations and the clear and present threat this is to an apparatus that wants secrecy and control to perpetuate their regimes.

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