Steel union takes over Point local International's probe of financial practices triggers suspensions

June 22, 1993|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

The largest union local at the Sparrows Point steel mill has been taken over by its international parent organization, which is investigating possible financial improprieties.

The president and treasurer of United Steelworkers of America Local 2610, which has about 2,300 members at the Bethlehem Steel Corp. mill, were temporarily relieved of their duties pending the completion of a union investigation.

"This is a sad day," said Harry Spedden, the Steelworkers union official who was appointed administrator of Local 2610. "Our main goal is to step in and correct it," he said.

U.S. Labor Department investigators are also looking into the allegations, according to people involved in the situation. Robert McKee, special agent in charge at the Philadelphia Office of Labor Racketeering, which is part of the Labor Department, said his office would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.

The international Steelworkers union will appoint a two-man commission to investigate the local and make recommendations to the international's executive board, Mr. Spedden said.

No charges have been brought against Local 2610 officials, Mr. Spedden said.

Mr. Spedden said he took control of Local 2610 Friday after Steelworkers international President Lynn R. Williams ordered that the local be placed into administratorship.

Local 2610 was taken over after an audit by the international, begun earlier this year, found that "certain financial practices needed to be corrected," Mr. Spedden said.

The audit covers the past three years of Local 2610's finances.

Among those financial practices were payments to part-time union officials to compensate them for time they take off from their steel mill jobs to conduct union business. Mr. Spedden said that some of the payments analyzed in the investigation were "not for lost time."

He said some of the violations were "technical." But, "in some cases, they knew what they were doing," said Mr. Spedden, who is the subdistrict director for District 8 of the United Steelworkers.

Mr. Spedden said he did not know details about the alleged infractions. However, he said, many of the cases involved instances such as a person working for the union while on vacation and later putting in for lost time.

"A lot of it was just honest, bad judgment," he said.

As part of the takeover, the five top officials of the local were automatically removed. Two of the officers were subsequently reinstated unconditionally and a third was reinstated temporarily, Spedden said.

The two officials who remained suspended yesterday were Walter Scott, president of the local, and Walter Stankiwicz, treasurer. Attempts to contact the two men were unsuccessful.

Tony Allen, the local's vice president, and Robert Hamilton, the recording secretary, were reinstated "since they are not involved in the ongoing audit," Mr. Spedden said.

Anthony Cantonzaro, the financial secretary, was reinstated temporarily to help with the daily finances of the local, Mr. Spedden said. "A final determination on his position will be made in the near future," Mr. Spedden said.

Mr. Cantonzaro and Mr. Hamilton refused to comment yesterday, and Mr. Allen could not be reached.

Mr. Spedden said no other local union officials were removed, but he suggested action against other members was possible. The amount of money involved in what union members in the local referred to as "double-dipping" will not be determined until after the completion of the union audit, Mr. Spedden said. "I can assure you, it's nowhere near a million dollars," he said.

Payments to union officials for lost work time account for a substantial amount of the money spent by the union local.

In 1990 -- the most recent financial report available at the U.S. Labor Department -- the local paid 16 union officials $285,935 for lost time. This was 36 percent of the union's total expenditures. Wages to other full- and part-time officers totaled $158,032 in 1990.

Local 2610 represents workers who make the raw steel at the steel mill in southeast Baltimore County. The other major local at the Sparrows Point plant, Local 2609, which represents about 2,000 workers in the finishing mills, was not involved in the takeover.

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