TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Top union executives with the International Longshoremen’s Association have taken control of Local 1402 in Tampa and appointed ILA General Vice President Wilbert Rowell as the Local’s Trustee following allegations of fraudulent ghost workers on the dock worker payroll at Port Tampa Bay. “Last night they did do a poll vote,” said ILA Vice President and spokesman Jim McNamara, referring to the International leadership of the longshoremen’s union based in New Jersey.
That ILA vote by top union executives followed a closed-door hearing last week in Tampa at which ILA officials from New Jersey heard tense testimony regarding the so-called ghost workers who collect longshoremen paychecks in Tampa without doing any actual work.
In a number of cases, real longshoremen who have toiled on the docks at Port Tampa Bay for decades insist they’ve never seen or heard of the ghost workers who according to union payroll records have logged thousands of hours on the docks over the past five years or so. According to alleged ghost worker lists obtained by 8 On Your Side, some of these ghost workers have criminal records and personal relationships with the fired manager of a company that hires longshoremen to work cruise ships at Port Tampa Bay.
At last week’s closed-door meeting there were reportedly discussions about other simmering union issues involving Local 1402’s meager pension fund. Dwindling pension resources have forced some longshoremen to continue working past normal retirement age and into their 70’s and 80’s. Growing questions about the pension fund have created discord, anger and suspicion among rank and file ILA members of Local 1402.
During a break in last week’s closed hearing, Tampa ILA Local 1402 President James Harrell told Eight on Your Side he’s not worried about losing his job. Harrell is only the third ILA Local 1402 President to run the dock worker union in Tampa since 1935. He assumed control from the late Perry Harvey Jr. who was indicted by a federal grand jury and later acquitted of corruption charges. Harvey’s predecessor was his father Perry Harvey Sr who founded the union 82 years ago during the Great Depression.
Some disgruntled ILA union members at Local 1402 blame Harrell for the current controversy. Now, the appointment of ILA Trustee Wilbur Rowell, who ran last week’s closed hearing, appears to undermine Harrell’s tentative position as the union boss in Tampa. Neither Harrell nor any other Local 1402 officers can conduct any union business now without the trustee’s approval according to McNamara.
McNamara tells 8 On Your Side that top ILA leaders might mandate a special election at Local 1402. That could lead to the ouster of Harrell along with his second in command, Vice President Leon Chandler. In recent months, Chandler has reportedly been running day-to-day operations at Local 1402 while Harrell was ill and hospitalized.
Local 1402 union member Danny Riley is one of many longtime ILA members who insists it is time for new leadership due to the unfolding scandal involving alleged ghost workers and the paltry state of the pension fund. “This hurts me as well as the rest of the men,” Riley told us last week.
In addition to the ILA internal investigation, 8 On Your Side has learned there is also a government probe underway by the Federal Department of Labor. Riley says he’s already been interviewed by a Department of Labor special agent.
Our 8 On Your Side investigation reveals Riley is not the only one that federal agents are talking to as part of an ongoing investigation of possible corruption. That federal investigation centers on the union business practices at Tampa’s ILA Local 1402 and at least one vendor at Port Tampa Bay that hires dock workers to load and unload the cruise ships and cargo ships that sail here.
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