And this recent spate of ILA indictments is only the most recent example in the long history of organized crime control over the union. New York University law professor James B. Jacobs describes that history in his new book, "Mobsters, Unions, and Feds: The Mafia and the American Labor Movement." "Cosa Nostra became the primary power on the New York harbor waterfront in 1937, when Anthony Anastasio . . . took control of the six New York harbor locals," says Jacobs, and it has remained so ever since. In the 1970s, the federal government won convictions of more than 100 mobsters, including 20 ILA officials, among them ILA Vice President Anthony Scotto.
Yet despite this sordid history, few lawmakers who profess concern about port security seem in the slightest bit worried that the ILA's role on the docks may constitute a huge security risk. The ILA contributes millions of dollars each election cycle. In the 2004 election cycle, the ILA's political action committee (PAC) had over $7 million cash on hand to distribute to candidates.
Among the top recipients of ILA PAC money in the last few elections were Sens. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, Robert Menendez, D-NJ, Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-NY, all of whom represent states with important ports. Some of these same senators are among the chief critics of the Dubai port deal, but they are noticeably silent when it comes to mob influence in the union that actually controls who works on these ports.
Union bosses who would rob their members of pensions and health benefits, extort money to secure jobs on the docks, and use the docks to run gambling, loan sharking and other illegal enterprises could just as easily facilitate terrorists hoping to slip agents or weapons into the country, perhaps unwittingly, for the right price. But few in Washington seem to have considered the risk. The Dubai deal is not the only port issue that deserves more congressional scrutiny; ILA corruption surely deserves a close look as well.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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