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Engineers renew claim they were cheated in L.A. union election

October 21, 2013|By James Rainey

After twin setbacks in their bid to take control of a local union, dissident building engineers pledged to keep pressing their case -- asking for reconsideration of a judge's ruling and appealing for a re-do of a union election that they lost in August.

Members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 501 contend that they lost the election because some workers were intimidated and hundreds of others did not receive ballots.

They said they have brought those concerns to the attention of the U.S. Department of Labor, but have been told that the agency would not follow up. Ed Oquendo, a Department of Labor official in Los Angeles, referred questions to a press officer, who said she did not have enough information to comment.

An attorney for the opposition group filed a motion Monday asking U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson to reconsider his earlier ruling finding that 16 plaintiffs against Local 501 did not have standing to bring their complaint of aiding and abetting under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

Pregerson found that the 16 did not suffer a direct injury because they were not trustees of the health and welfare and training funds that allegedly lost value because of union management.

The August local election was already a re-do of a previous vote by the Los Angeles-based union, which the Department of Labor contested because it said some challengers were improperly excluded from the ballot.

While the challengers' names appeared on the August ballot, they said they were at a disadvantage because they were not given adequate information about where to find all 9,000 members of the local. Even when they did find job sites where members worked, management sometimes blocked them from speaking with workers, and other workers did not receive ballots, said Erik B. Smith, who lost his bid to be a district representative for Local 501.

The dissidents say that health and pension benefits for thousands of employees have been compromised by current Local 501 management.

Officers of the local have repeatedly declined to comment. A spokesman for the Washington-based international union says the allegations are trumped up and that the August election showed most workers have confidence in their union.


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