Thursday, November 23, 2017
Transportation

Trustee to run Tampa longshoremen union as investigation into "ghost" worker payments continues

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TAMPA — Leaders of the International Longshoremen's Association have appointed a trustee to take over Local 1402 amid claims that "ghost" workers were regularly paid for work they didn't do at Port Tampa Bay.

The union's national executive council voted Wednesday night to impose a trustee on the union, said Jim McNamara, the national union's spokesman. Wilbert Rowell, a general vice president with the union, will now oversee the local's pension and health care funds.

An investigation into the ghost worker allegations is already underway. That included a closed-door meeting at a Tampa hotel last week where officials from the union's national executive council met with Local 1402 president James Harrell and vice president Leon Chandler.

The U.S. Department of Labor also has subpoenaed records from trustees, likely for its own investigation.

The claims about ghost workers were brought to the attention of union trustees by Evan Cotten, a former union clerk who was elected as a trustee late last year. He told other trustees at a meeting that roughly 10 phantom names were on payroll records, some for five years.

Some had worked more than 700 hours in 2016, enough to qualify for pensions, holiday pay and to advance their seniority.

That would mean other workers could lose out on work and benefits. They need to work at least 700 hours in a 12-month period that ends Sept. 30 to qualify for benefits.

Using social media, Cotten was able to link six of the ghost worker to a manager who worked for Ceres Terminals Inc., a stevedore firm that operates at the Tampa port.

That manager was fired several months ago for violation of corporate policy and is the subject of several "external investigations," according to Zach Zemenick, Ceres director of human resources.

Cotten welcomed the appointment of the trustee but said he wants to see a change in union leadership.

"I think they have to do this but I don't know how much to expect from this," Cotten said. "It may be more for show than have any real substance."

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

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