What's next for the ILA?

What's next for the ILA?

Last week's acquittal of two International Longshoremen's Association officials and a missing Mafioso leaves two intriguing questions.

First: Where's Lawrence Ricci? The reputed Genovese mob captain, acquitted along with ILA leaders Harold Daggett and Arthur Coffey, mysteriously vanished in mid-trial and has not been seen or heard from since. (Mr. Ricci, if you're reading this, please contact the FBI.)

The second question, more relevant to companies doing business in Atlantic and Gulf ports: What does the verdict mean for the future of the ILA? And more specifically, how will it affect the government's civil racketeering lawsuit against the ILA?

That lawsuit, filed under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, seeks to put the union under federal supervision until it's declared free of organized crime. The charges against Daggett and Coffey formed much of the basis for the RICO lawsuit. The Justice Department claims the Mafia parlayed decades of control over the ILA in New York-New Jersey and South Florida into influence over the international union and its benefit programs. The ILA denies the allegations.

Clearly, the acquittals were a blow to the civil lawsuit. Government lawyers badly wanted to enter the RICO trial with a few ILA officials' skins nailed to the wall. When the RICO suit was filed last summer, the ILA complained that government lawyers had refused to discuss a deal that would head off a lawsuit. After last week's verdicts, they may be more inclined to negotiate.

Although the feds struck out with Daggett and Coffey, they did secure a guilty plea from a third ILA leader, Al Cernadas, who was charged in the same indictment. Less than a week before the trial, Cernadas pleaded guilty to conspiracy. His plea bargain may keep him out of prison, but it required him to resign his union positions and permanently leave the industry.

Cernadas, 70, the union's longtime executive vice president, had been on the short list of possible successors to ILA President John Bowers. Others included Daggett and Benny Holland, general vice president from Galveston. Richard Hughes Jr., secretary-treasurer of the ILA's Atlantic Coast district and a longtime Bowers confidant, was elected to complete Cernadas's term as executive vice president.

How recent developments will affect ILA leadership succession is unclear. Bowers, who turned 83 last Friday, is not expected to seek re-election at the union's 2007 convention. He has said he would have retired earlier but wanted to stay on to clear up the RICO case.

Employers will be watching developments closely. They worry that a federal trusteeship could leave them facing new counterparts who don't understand the industry. At least there's no fear of a work stoppage. Any court-appointed trustee would have no authority to negotiate collective-bargaining agreements. And the current ILA contract, with its no-strike clause, doesn't expire for nearly five more years.

Joseph Bonney is editor of The Journal of Commerce. He can be contacted at (973) 848-7139, or at jbonney@joc.com.