Mutiny on the docks; Seafarers' Union Buffeted By Corruption Charges
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Further, the suit shifts the burden of proof from members to officers. As a result, ''all a member has to do is say, for example, that 'the severance fund is too large' and the officers must rebut the charge,'' Fox explains.Skip to next paragraph
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Most important, the court's decision goes beyond former intepretations of Landrum-Griffin. Previously, the union's own internal decisionmaking mechanisms were considered the final word on officers' expenditures. Now an expenditure approved by the rank and file must ''meet muster,'' as Fox puts it. The officers must show that the expense was ''reasonable'' in the eyes of an outsider - the courts.
Charles Summers, a labor law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, says, ''One of the values of such lawsuits is that they make public how a union performs.''
Because of the decison, ''one person, hooked up with a good lawyer, can force officers to attain high standards (of behavior),'' says Fox.''One rank-and-filer can do miracles.''
However, union dissidents must first find a good lawyer. Most high-powered labor lawyers are already working for unions or companies. Because of the complexity of labor law, lawyers with backgrounds in other fields are reluctant to lock horns with experienced labor lawyers.
''Who has the money or the stomach to take them (the officials) to court?'' asks Albert Jackson, an NMU dissident from Delaware.
Jackson, who has sailed since 1966, has seen ''both sides of the issue.''
His father was a poor immigrant from the West Indies who helped Curran purge the Communists from the NMU after World War II. He was rewarded with a job as port agent in Seattle and defended the often heavy-handed tactics of the Curran administration. ''It's what happens,'' Jackson says, ''when you get three squares and some money in your pocket.''
''Many of the young people look at union corruption as 'pluses and minuses,' '' Jackson adds. Another NMU member reports that the prevalent attitude on board ship is that members don't care what the officers do as long as they are able to negotiate a good contract for the seamen.
Jackson met James Morrissey in 1968 and began to rethink his position on what the union should be doing. When he looked into union activities, he became outraged.
''There is no democracy in this union,'' Jackson states flatly.
Elections in the NMU are held every five years, the maximum interval permitted by law. Between elections, if a union official retires, resigns, or is fired, his successor is appointed by the union heads in New York.Most of the 32 union halls have two elected officials. They are elected by all members, so that someone running for patrolman (the lowest rung on the union ladder) in Seattle is elected by members as far away as New York and Houston.
''The official candidates have all the apparatus on their side: phones, desks , the Pilot (the union newspaper),'' Morrissey says. Administration candidates can use business trips to the various ports to campaign, he claims, and ''the opposition is restricted to the audience (it) can reach.'' It is no surprise that the administration slate always wins, he says.
Many charge that it doesn't make sense to have the entire membership voting for every office. Jackson suggests port-by-port elections of local officials and unionwide balloting for the five national posts.
A retired union official, who asked not to be named, charges that the elections were often ''rigged'' through ballot-stuffing in favor of the administration candidates.
Officials counter these charges, pointing out that elections are conducted by an independent group, the ''Honest Ballot Association.''
Morrissey convinced the US Labor Department and a federal court that the 1966 election was unfair - that the requirements for candidates were too strict. While the dissidents won this battle, Morrissey lost a narrow tally in the court-ordered election of 1969, in which the union included the votes of some 7, 000 shoreside workers from Panama. The Pilot reported a ''landslide'' victory for the administration slate.
The shoreside workers in Panama (mostly Canal Zone employees) now number about 5,000, and they still vote for all union offices. With roughly 20,000 current NMU members, they make up a significant voting block.