Union for Sale

DC 37, the city's powerful consortium of municipal unions, is rocked by corruption investigations—and challenges from rank-and-file reformers

This weekend, when District Council 37's long-serving Executive Director Stanley Hill checked out of his $935-a-night Executive Suite at Honolulu's Sheraton Waikiki, he undoubtedly left behind some happy hoteliers. That's because for a full week he picked up the tab for more than 800 other DC 37 delegates, staffers, and alternates.

Hill's entourage, swollen by nearly 600 guests, made up almost a third of the 4500 rooms reserved by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees for its 33rd conference. The AFSCME party occupied the entire Sheraton Honolulu chain: the Waikiki, the Princess Kaiulani, and the Moana Surfrider. "It was the largest single booking in Honolulu's history," say hotel officials.

The AFL-CIO, which used to have its conventions in Bal Harbor, Florida, has shifted them to Pittsburgh. But AFSCME still prefers surf and sun. Indeed, Hill tried to justify the Hawaii jaunt as a work trip for the city's largest, richest, and politically most generous union. "You have to understand we have to fulfill our constitutional responsibilities,"explained Hill, who supervises an $88 million yearly budget."We're going out there to fight privatization, to deal with workfare and welfare reform. We're going to be tightening up fiscal integrity nationwide. It's going to be a momentous convention."

Still, flying 1400 people 6000 miles across the Pacific in August for a week of sun, surf, and lu'au at members' expense may not seem like the appropriate strategy for an organization that by July had seen documents and officials from 12 of its locals subpoenaed to appear before a Manhattan grand jury. Even at group rates, travel experts estimate the cost of feeding, flying, and sheltering the Hill party at the Sheraton to be at least $2 million.

Actually, this flaunting of official perquisites comes at a time when the District Council, which brings together more than 105,000 city workers organized by 56 locals, is being probed by four sets of investigators and being rocked by an unprecedented number of challenges to its leadership by rank-and-file reformers. Eight of the 12 locals being investigated by the Manhattan D.A. are headed by vice presidents who sit on DC 37's 20-member executive board. "It's simply the biggest corruption scandal I've ever heard of," says a very senior city labor official who insisted on anonymity.

DC 37's parent, the 1.3 million­member AFSCME International, is looking into the disappearance of at least $10 million from the 22,000-member Board of Education Local 372, which was run for 30 years by Hill's ally Charles Hughes until last February. In 1997, Hughes received a payment of more than $1 million from DC 37 for "overtime," in addition to his $241,000 salary. As many as nine residents of Georgia and South Carolina appeared on the 372 payroll. Hill himself has acknowledged that Hughes, who was expelled from the union by the International, is also under federal investigation.

Then there's city comptroller Alan Hevesi, who's auditing DC 37's benefit funds. A spokesperson for Hevesi said, "We didn't single out DC 37." And Hill insisted that the audit is "perfectly normal." But when asked if this isn't the first time DC 37 has been audited in its 57-year history, Hill replied, "I'll have to check on that." (He never got back to the Voice.)

Perhaps most seriously for the future of DC 37, there is Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau's investigation. It began in November with an inquiry into a bizarre turkey-buying operation run by the presidents of three locals. The inquiry has widened and deepened since then. In June, Morgenthau convened a special grand jury which is still in session. More subpoenas came down this month. Mark Shaplo, the $106,000-a-year assistant to DC 37's associate director, had his papers subpoenaed by the D.A. So did Adam Klein, an attorney for Local 983, who received a $450,000 fee approved by Hill.

Aside from the unprecedented number of locals and officials, the D.A. is also investigating a variety of allegations: stealing from the members; treasuries that mysteriously fade to empty; election rigging; kickbacks; payroll padding; Christmas parties with missing receipts; officials who simply write out checks to themselves. Altogether, a DC 37 insider speculates that as much as $25 million may be missing.

The D.A.'s office is also reportedly investigating allegations of death threats, intimidation, shakedowns, phony elections, and Italians and blacks fighting each other with chairs at union meetings. There are reports of a building takeover by 93 members of Local 983--motor vehicle workers--armed with baseball bats.

Things have gotten so bad, says one high-ranking labor official, that "Washington is going to have to come in. I've talked to a guy who goes back 30 years, and no one can think of anything that compares with it." To which Stanley Hill responds, "How far back does this guy really go? It's not that bad. People like to exaggerate."

Fran Autovino does Las Vegas

In Local 384, the CUNY clerical workers' union, no one disagrees that hundreds of thousands of dollars are missing. The debate is over who is responsible: President Fran Autovino accuses Treasurer Connie Lango of having swiped $192,000, but Lango insists she is being set up by Autovino. The Manhattan D.A.'s office and the AFSCMEInternational are both investigating.

In the summer of 1996, Lango counter-attacked by making the financial records of the local available to the members. Lango passed over to City College shop steward Sandy Tucker huge stacks of canceled checks and American Express bills, of which the Voice has obtained copies. Clearly, Autovino wrote lots of checks to herself on the local's account. In '91, she wrote a check for $6147, ostensibly as reimbursement for copies of the local's constitution. A couple of months later she got $5000 for "handbooks." Copies of various contracts cost $2000. Autovino did not return phone calls from the Voice.

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