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Meet John Dio.

In this picture, Dio is about to slug a newspaper photographer outside a courtroom. Dio (Dioguardi) was a vicious racketeer in New York from the 1930s to the 1960s. He was infamous for ordering the acid-blinding of labor columnist Victor Reisel, who had exposed Dio's use of "phony" labor unions.  Dio's "unions" existing only to thwart legitimate democratic unions from organizing workers, and to extort payoffs. Dio was the model for Johnny Friendly in the movie "On the Waterfront."

When the federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) became law in 1970, it specifically outlawed Dio-style phony "unions" as a racketeering offense.

However, if you read below the orange maze of arborvitae roots, you'll find an example of how the RICO law didn't always produce justice when applied against fancy-dressed management attorneys who secretly controlled unions.

At the beginning of the 20th century, livestock slaughterhouses covered dozens of square miles near the railroad centers of cities like Chicago, Omaha, and Kansas City. Thousands of workers slaughtered millions of animals under hideous conditions, and the finished meat moved from there, into the newly-invented refrigerated railcars, and then onto the ultimate markets.

From 1900 to the 1950s, thousands of packinghouse workers went on strike, often battling police and troops to form unions.  In Kansas City, epic cooperation between black and white packinghouse workers sped the process of unionization. Elsewhere, racially divided workers were often defeated and had to regroup.

But by the 1960s, the militant, progressive and scrappy Packinghouse Workers Union achieved almost complete organization of the industry.

But unscrupuluous employers had a scheme.  They began closing their big urban operations, and reopened their slaughterhouses in small rural towns, hoping to run away from the Union.

When Packinghouse Union organizers attempted to follow the work to outlying areas like Mason City, Iowa, or Grand Island, Nebraska to sign up the new workers, sometimes they found that the workers were already unwilling or even unknowing members of obscure unions named the  "United Packing and Industrial Allied Workers (UPIAW)" or the "National Industrial Workers Union" or the "Industrial, Technical and Professional Employees." (for more information, use the link below and click on the first Monfort decision)[0]=document_subtype_name%3ABoard%20Decision

The employers would then sneer at the Packinghouse Union, claiming, "We already have a union contract here."  Of course, the obscure unions' contracts were awful, with wages barely half of what the Packinghouse Union usually negotiated.

Then union researchers noticed that the companies with these odd labor "contracts" all had the same labor law attorneys, from the firm of Tate, Sykes and Bruckner, of Lincoln, Nebraska.

The National Labor Relations Board, (NLRB) that enforces federal labor law, was also investigating whether these entities were actually illegal "employer-dominated" unions.  The NLRB discovered that some meatpacking companies and even their attorneys were actively assisting and even paying the union representatives.

In the case of Mason City Dressed  Beef, attorney Charles Sykes paid men to go to Omaha, recruit a van full of unemployed men, and drive them hundreds of miles to the new slaughterhouse, where union representatives were waiting inside the locker room to "sign them up" into the union.  Sykes then "cut and pasted" portions of an old copy of another labor contract to cover the new Mason City workers. (For details, click on the following link ,and then click on "Board decision.)

Bizarrely, the UPAIW then merged into the Sailors' Union (NMU), so you had a union representing sailors who also "represented" packinghouse workers in the Midwest, 1500 miles from the ocean.

The scheme ground to a halt in 1983.  Attorney Charles Sykes was just finishing a deposition at a union law office in San Francisco. As he stood to leave, the union attorney said, "Mr. Sykes, there's a gentleman here with something for you."

I came across the room and stepped up close to Sykes. I was struck first of all with his clothes; the fine quality of his Italian suit, its scarcely-visible seams, the soft fabric, the delicate herringbone pattern, the muted silk tie, the blinding shine on his wing tip shoes.

But I could not stop looking at his features, which were exceptionally predatory even for an attorney.  His blonde features left him nearly without eyebrows, which accented his shark-like gaze.

"This for you Mr. Sykes," I muttered, shoving a 20-page document into his manicured hands.

He wordlessly began undoing the clasps on his fine leather briefcase to put the document away, his gaze casually sweeping over the title page of the federal court civil suit I'd just handed to him.  Then he stopped as he read:

Complaint Under Title 18 of the United States Code, 18 U.S.C. § 1961–1968, The Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act...

the document began.  Sykes' eyes moved down the page.

".... against the law firm of TATE SYKES and BRUCKNER and attorney CHARLES E SYKES...

He turned to the second page.

"... defendants' payments to NMU are in violation of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 186 and constitute a predicate offense under RICO ...

Sykes' hands began to tremble.  The papers he held rattled noisily.  Sykes suddenly looked up, shoved the court papers into his briefcase and pushed his way out of the conference room.

"Call me a cab,"  he barked at a clerical worker.

"You want a union cab company, don't you Mr. Sykes?"  the clerical responded.

That was the fun part.   The companies and attorneys soon abandoned their schemes with the phony union.  

The US Attorney promised to seek indictments but never did.

And the years went by, the federal judges whittled away at the case, cut some defendants loose, and finally dismissed it.  The Judge's reasoning was that the victims of any fraud were the workers deprived of union rights, and that's not a  crime but a mere unfair labor practice.

So despite the mountains of evidence gathered in a score of NLRB hearings of illegal payments to phony unions that would have done Johnny Dio proud, the millionaire company owners and their fancy dressed lawyers all escaped judgement, at least in this world.

Since that day, I've always scoffed at folks who suggest gleefully that the RICO Act should apply to chubby governors and that ilk.  It should apply, I agree, but it doesn't and it won't.

 Late at night, when I've had too much to drink, and I've thought too much about the US justice system, I find myself wishing that Ray Pensador was the US Attorney General, but I lie down until that urge goes away.

Originally posted to In Support of Labor and Unions on Sun Jan 19, 2014 at 09:45 PM PST.

Also republished by Anti-Capitalist Chat.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (34+ / 0-)

    “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    by 6412093 on Sun Jan 19, 2014 at 09:45:45 PM PST

  •  Curious reverberations from long ago. (13+ / 0-)

    In 1968 I worked at the brand new Wilson Meat Packing plant in Logansport, Indiana, a town of about 20,000 people in cornfield country. The plant had ostensibly been built there to bring the slaughter house "closer to where the pigs were."

    There was quite the organizing campaign waged by the Amalgamated Meat Cutters & Butcher Workmen who had the corporation wide contract with Wilson's, which had a major plant in Kansas City.

    There was an employee from the Kansas City plant, an Hispanic guy whose name, as best I recall it after all these years, was Al who served on the International bargaining committee for the union who'd transferred to Logansport to help organize the new plant.

    Perhaps it was the being far away from home, but somehow or other Al was seduced into taking a foreman's job and surrendering his union membership.

    After about six weeks as a "company man" he was summarily fired, totally without union protection.

    Thanks for illuminating that story with the bigger picture.

    War beats down, and sows with salt, the hearts and minds of soldiers." Brecht

    by DaNang65 on Sun Jan 19, 2014 at 10:37:57 PM PST

  •  wow, six. that's some sneer. (6+ / 0-)

    and i went into suspended animation just at the "something for you" point of the scene. my fight or flight button broke. i woudda been a dead fish.

    see, i was expecting ... there would be blood. you're an arresting writer. to put it mildly. but i did enjoy "orange maze of arborvitae roots..."
    (cotoneasters are nice, too.)

    Addington's perpwalk? TRAILHEAD of accountability for Bush-2 Crimes. @Hugh: There is no Article II power which says the Executive can violate the Constitution.

    by greenbird on Sun Jan 19, 2014 at 11:14:50 PM PST

    •  Hi greenbird (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      At the time, we had the US Attorneys promising action, Congressional oversight committee holding hearings, etc., and everyone fully expected Justice would be served.

      “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

      by 6412093 on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 08:22:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Awesome 6412093. Late at night I dream that every (6+ / 0-)

    corrupt/pro-capitalist judicial interpretation of RICO and the General Welfare clause is thrown out based on capitalist bribes of one form or another, and that payment of "just" compensation for forced return of stolen property taken directly or indirectly by capitalist thieves from Native Peoples, African-Americans, and the poor is waterboarding of Dick Cheney. Thank goodness I don't drink.

    I'm on the left wing of the possible. I write for the same reasons Eric Arthur Blair did, just not as well.

    by Galtisalie on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 12:55:59 AM PST

    •  Galtisalie, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Galtisalie, FarWestGirl

      I had my hopes for our current system way up after several Washington DC juries sent former Attorney General John Mitchell and other Watergate boys to the stony lonesome in the 1970s.

      Followed by 40 years of disappointments.

      “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

      by 6412093 on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 08:25:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The poor we will always have with us (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    6412093, FarWestGirl

    because there will always be incompetents whose only recourse is to take by force what others produce. I suspect that the reason they have to resort to force is because they exist in a state of fear. Fear makes them retaliate against fate and anyone who achieves what they can't get for themselves.
    The gift of gab would seem to make the difference between those that end up in jail and those that seclude themselves in board rooms and gated communities.

    Obamacare at your fingertips: 1-800-318-2596; TTY: 1-855-889-4325

    by hannah on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 05:06:57 AM PST

    •  I hope you are right hannah (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      because if they are always afraid, they cannot enjoy their stolen lucre,  That would provide me some comfort, cold as it is.

      You do have a point, that ilk often acts as if they are fearful, and not logical.

      “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

      by 6412093 on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 08:28:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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