Members of a large Los Angeles-based union local that has been torn by internal strife have reelected their leaders in a closely watched election that included accusations that the organization was beset by fraud, racketeering and intimidation tactics.
Challengers said they had hoped to strike a blow against national leaders of the International Union of Operating Engineers, who the dissidents alleged had nurtured a culture of corruption. The contest, which included two competing slates of dissidents, was widely followed in labor circles.
But results released Monday showed that the incumbents of IUOE Local 501, which represents 9,000 skilled maintenance workers in large buildings in the southern sections of California and Nevada, had prevailed. Reelected to the top leadership post was incumbent Business Manager Edward Curly, along with 16 others who were part of Curly's Pro Union slate.
In the bitter, months-long election campaign, an insurgent group calling itself The Resistance accused the union's leaders of defrauding members of millions of dollars and using mob-style threats of violence against opponents. Those allegations also were included in a lawsuit now pending in Los Angeles federal court.
Representatives of the union's Washington-based parent organization called the allegations a smear and a "fiction" promoted by members who wanted to seize control of the Los Angeles local following an election loss three years ago.
After allegations of irregularities in that campaign, the U.S. Department of Labor sued to force Local 501 to re-run the 2010 election. The case was settled late last year, with an agreement to repeat the election by this month.
When the tally of about 2,500 ballots was completed, Finn Pette, who challenged Curly for the position of business manager, lost by 132 votes. In other contests, the challengers also came close, but ultimately captured only two of the 19 Local 501 leadership positions.
Curly did not respond to requests for comment.
"It was a good day for the members of Local 501," said Jay Lederer, a spokesman for the international union. "They had their voices heard and hopefully this puts to rest some of the controversy and emotion and they can move forward in a positive manner."
The incumbent group appears to have benefited from the presence of two slates of challengers, whose combined vote exceeded that received by Curly's alliance. Supporters of the Resistance slate said they might dispute the election, in part because 300 union members allegedly did not receive ballots.
"It's a bit of a setback and we will step back and regroup," said Erik Smith, one of the defeated candidates. "But we are going to continue to work to fix the local."