Beth Steel union bars ex-officers

February 11, 1994|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Sun Staff Writer

The largest union at Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point plant yesterday barred nine former officers from running for office for the next three to five years and ordered them to repay $161,292 they allegedly received through double-billing and inflated wages.

A membership meeting of Local 2610 of the United Steelworkers of America last night voted to confirm the recommendation of a three-person union trial committee.

Yesterday's vote stems from an internal union investigation that prompted the international offices of the United Steelworkers to seize control of the local last June and oust local President Walter Scott, Treasurer Walter Stankiwicz and other officials.

A union audit released in October charged that 20 union officials had overcharged the union by $217,000 from 1989 to 1991.

Four of the former officers were excluded from the trial committee process because they are retired. A fifth person was cleared of receiving any improper payments.

Four other former officers were found to have minor violations, have already repaid the union and were not barred from running for office.

For two other former officers, the membership voted not to confirm the trial committee's decision. One missed a hearing because of a mix-up in scheduling; the other, Paul Solomon, was able to convince the members that the charges against him stemmed from clerical errors.

Mr. Solomon, a former member of the grievance committee, said the trial committee action was politically motivated.

"It was a process to keep Scotty [Mr. Scott, the former president] from running," he said.

Larry Collison, one of the former officers who was told to repay the union, also denounced the process.

"I think it's a totally political kangaroo court," he said.

Mr. Collison, a former chairman of the local's grievance committee, said $7,500 that he was charged with receiving improperly resulted from mistakes by company time-keepers and decision by union officials on the pay of other officials.

"They were honest mistakes," he said.

Even though he has already repaid the money, he is still under a three-year election ban preventing him from running for local president in April, as he had planned.

"You tell me it's not political," he said.

The alleged double-billing involved payments to part- and full-time union officials who were supposed to be compensated for time they took off from their steel mill jobs to conduct union business.

The audit found that the officials were paid by Bethlehem at the same time they were paid by the union. It also found that many of the officials were paid more than they would have received working in the plant, in violation of union regulations.

Six of the 13 former officers who were told to repay have already repaid $25,823, according to union members.

The other seven officers were told to repay the money in three to five years.

If the money is not repaid in that time, an additional fine of $2,500 would be levied, according to the trial committee's decision, which does not carry any legal authority.

The trial committee also barred 12 of the 15 former officers from running for union office for three years.

The three other officers -- who held top positions -- were banned for five years. These periods would be extended if repayments are not made in time, the trial committee decided.

The decisions can be appealed to the Steelworkers union's executive board and to its international convention, scheduled for August in Las Vegas.

A union official said the union could resort to court action to enforce the decisions.

"It's not our intent at this time to pursue civil suits, but it's an option that is always open to us," said Harry Spedden, the Steelworkers union official who was appointed administrator of Local 2610 in June.

Robert McKee, special agent-in-charge at the Philadelphia Office Labor Racketeering, which is part of the Labor Department, said his office would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation of the local.

Mr. Scott, the ousted local president, has previously called the charges "trumped up" and said they were politically motivated. "No one did anything to misuse the money," he said in October.

The audit found that Mr. Scott allegedly received $15,971.66 more than he was entitled to while serving as local president during the years covered by the audit.

Local 2610, which has 2,300 workers, represents employees who make raw steel at the steel mill in southeast Baltimore County. The other major local at the Sparrows Point plant, No. 2609, which represents about 2,000 workers in the finishing mills, was not involved in the takeover by the international.

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