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)
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.