Tampa ‘ghost worker’ hearing that could oust longshoreman union bosses closed to rank and file

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The International Longshoremen’s Association held a closed door hearing in Tampa Tuesday that may spell trouble for leaders of ILA Local 1402 that supplies dock workers to Port Tampa Bay and Port Manatee.

On Monday, an 8 on Your Side investigation revealed allegations of ghost workers, or people paid as dock workers who don’t actually perform any work, who have reportedly been on the union payroll for at least five years. Rank and file union members insist that kind of corruption has to stop, because it steals hours and benefits from them.

“Because of the conflicts of interest that we’ve been having and the corruption, we need to address this,” said union member Charles Gibson. “Because it’s hurting people.”

Senior ILA executives held a hearing in Tampa with the Local 1402 executive board and trustees to determine whether there is enough evidence of corruption and financial malfeasance to remove Local 1402 union executives from power and replace them with trustees appointed by the ILA.

“I’m not worried about my job,” said Local 1402 President James Harrell, who is paid $106,000 a year to run the Tampa ILA Local.

Last week, Harrell told 8 on Your Side he didn’t know anything about ghost workers that were allegedly uncovered by a newly elected trustee of the Local 1402 pension board. Tuesday, he reportedly testified in the closed door meeting and also listened to hours of testimony by other witnesses regarding the alleged ghost workers and other questions of financial malfeasance by officers and trustees in his Tampa Local. During an afternoon break int he hearing, Harrell insisted he was still clueless about the existence of ghost workers on the docks.

“I don’t know,” Harrell said. “They’re still discussing it.”

Some union members say Local 1402 Vice President Leon Chandler has been running the Local’s day to day operation for some time, especially recently when Harrell was sick and hospitalized. Chandler refused any comment and stood mute when we asked him questions. Some union members claim that Chandler, Harrell and other senior Local officers run the longshoreman’s union like their own private club and favor friends when it comes to picking workers for daily jobs on the docks regardless of seniority.

“It needs to stop. The older guard needs to change,” Alexander said.

More than a dozen rank and file ILA members who were not allowed to attend the closed hearing spent Tuesday milling around the lobby of the Holiday Inn Westshore in Tampa. Some of them told 8 on Your Side they are eager for a change in leadership and believe they have lost thousands of hours of work and benefits due to ghost workers on the union payroll. Alexander is 65-years-old with decades of seniority, but says he still can’t get the number of hours needs to support his family

“I can’t get my bonus money, holiday checks nothing,” said Matthew Alexander. “Because I didn’t make my hours.” Alexander said he fell 14 work hours short of an annual benchmark that would have boosted his benefits considerably.

ILA President Alan Robb oversees the South Atlantic and Gulf Coast District and called for a union investigation in a May 19 letter he wrote to the ILA International President Harold Daggett. In that letter, Robb described business practices in Tampa Local 1402 that allow for “possible corruption and fraud.”  Robb also told the ILA’s top leader “it has become clear that it is necessary to correct financial malpractice.”

At the hearing Tuesday in Tampa, Robb was reluctant to say anything to 8 on Your Side about what so alarmed him.

“I’d rather refer you to our legal counsel in New York for any questions,” Robb said.

ILA International’s General Vice President Wilbert Rowell presided over the day-long hearing in Tampa and also refused to reveal any specific testimony and discussion. Rowell and fellow hearing officer and ILA VP Charles Montgomery will return to ILA headquarters in New Jersey and eventually recommend whether issues are serious enough to remove Harrell and others from power and appoint trustees to oversee Tampa Local 1402.

“I have no comment at this time,” Rowell told 8 on Your Side. “We still have an investigation going on and you’ll get a press release at a later date.”

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