Leaders of Hollywood's largest craft union local, armed and barricaded inside their offices for the last week, surrendered peacefully under federal court order Wednesday, ending a showdown aimed at retaining control despite charges of mob ties and mismanagement.
Officials of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees entered the North Hollywood offices of Local 44, Affiliated Property Craftspersons, and assumed control under a temporary restraining order issued here by U.S. District Judge John Davies.
Mac St. Johns, the IATSE official who was appointed trustee of the local during the takeover, said the keys to the building were handed over peacefully. He said the takeover by the international union is temporary and occurred as part of an "emergency situation."
"We will look at the affairs of the local and when they're straightened out, we will turn the local over to the international," St. Johns said. "What we want to do is run it right."
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday October 23, 1987 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 6 Metro Desk 2 inches; 65 words Type of Material: Correction
In a story in Thursday's editions of The Times on the takeover of Local 44, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, by officers from the international union it was incorrectly reported that Leo Geffner, an attorney for the international, was hired as a "consultant" to the local last year. The person hired was Joe Franco, a former associate of the late Jimmy Hoffa. The erroneous sentence should have stated "Geffner said Franco was hired" by the union.
He said the changeover in leadership will not be felt by the 3,600 rank-and-file members of the local, including property masters, set designers and decorators, greensmen, seamstresses and other studio workers.
"It will be run the same way," St. Johns said. "There will be no change or impact whatsoever. In fact, it will be run better."
Originally, leaders and members of Local 44 had vowed that the international would have to "knock down the doors to get us out." But after the takeover, local president Ed Hall said those statements were "all a charade," as were the guns that some members carried.
"We're not gangsters," he said. "We're not going to have a shoot-out."
Nonetheless, officers of Local 44 had been standing watch round-the-clock in the office since last Tuesday, and assistant business agent Ronnie Cunningham said that four of them had received telephoned death threats.
Two business agents, Larry Shapiro and Joe Basile, were in the office and unlocked the doors allowing St. Johns, Josef Bernay, an assistant trustee, and two other international union representatives to take over at 2 p.m.
In granting the international's request for a temporary restraining order, Davies said he was not considering the merits of IATSE's takeover bid, but merely whether proper procedures had been followed. The temporary restraining order, he said, "merely holds things in suspension."
Davies set Nov. 4 as the date for a hearing on a preliminary injunction, at which time the merits of the case could be examined. Meanwhile, he ordered the international to provide office space for officers of the local, to aid them in mounting their defense.
Attorney Leo Weber, representing Local 44, tried unsuccessfully to obtain an order that would require IATSE to continue paying executives of the local while the case is being decided. Local 44 attorneys were also unsuccessful in seeking a court order that would have barred the takeover for at least 60 days.
The conflict between IATSE and its largest local had been simmering for more than a year, and appeared to center on policies and actions of Allen Price, who served as business agent for Local 44 from 1978 to 1981--and returned to that office in early 1986.
International union and studio officials agreed that more than 40% of the IATSE grievances that came to a hearing since January of 1986 were filed by Local 44, though the local accounts for only 5% of the international union's total membership.
Price confirmed this, and said he has no regrets.
"Sure," he said, "Local 44 probably has more grievances than all the other locals combined in the course of a year."
He said he has been aggressive in grievance matters, because he wants to get clearer definitions of workers' rights under a contract that he believes is too favorable to employers--and relies too much on unspoken agreements struck in the 1930s and 1940s.
For a time last year, Price said he even explored the possibility of taking his local out of IATSE altogether and aligning it with the Teamsters Union, because he believed the Teamsters would give his members stronger representation.
But he said he has dropped that idea in favor of a plan to join several of Hollywood's fragmented craft locals into a single "super-local," similar to a powerful union that was broken up decades ago when the old studio system went into decline.
IATSE officials, however, said Price's militancy was only part of the problem.
Leo Geffer, an attorney for the international union, said the main issue as far as he was concerned was the hiring of Joe Franco, a former associate of the late Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. Geffer was hired as a "consultant" last year, at a salary of $4,000 per month, shortly after the international union assigned two monitors to examine the local's internal affairs.
Geffer said he has information that Franco ran up $13,000 in expenses, without receipts, during his first two months of employment.