Labor Union Civil War Heats Up; Local LIUNA Members Picket LIUNA Meeting in Kingman

Valley members of a labor union's Arizona chapter got out their picket signs and stormed the streets of Kingman on Monday in protest of -- the labor union.

The demonstration was the latest move in the union civil war we told you about last week. As we reported, the Laborers' International Union of North America Local 383 sued the headquarters of the union in a brawl over territory.

We're now learning that the fight may stem from a billion dollars' worth of solar-power-plant construction work that's going to Mohave County.

The Local 383's lawsuit aims to stop plans by the national LIUNA to give the territory of Mohave County to LIUNA's Nevada chapter, Local 872.

But the legal action isn't working, so far: A couple of days after the suit was filed, U.S. District Court Judge Mary Murguia refused to delay the Kingman meeting of the national LIUNA, during which the plans to swap territories were discussed.

Ramond Montoya,manager of Local 383, told us today that "the only reason they want to take [Mohave County] away from us is the solar plants."

Montoya speculates that the national LIUNA folks are practicing favoritism by planning to give the territory to a larger, richer chapter -- but he admits he's not sure of the headquarters' reasoning. 

The Local 383 represents about 850 workers and 250 retirees in Arizona (a right-to-work state); most are from the Phoenix area. The Nevada chapter has about 1,500 members, Montoya says.  

LIUNA, which claims to represent a half-million workers in the United States, says the territory switch-up is needed because the Local 383 has all but abandoned Kingman.

The Phoenix-based chapter is supposed to "police" various construction sites around the state to make sure contractors are adhering to agreements with union workers, Montoya explains.

Montoya denies LIUNA's charge, but he admits that his people haven't been up there as much since the recession, because so few members have jobs.

"It's been dead over there," he says.

From our outsiders' perspective, Local 383's fight seems to be more about union dues than anything else.

In response to questions by New Times, LIUNA's headquarters issued a statement today announcing that it plans to open up a satellite office in Kingman if the "restructuring" plans are adopted.

"Currently, LIUNA has no market share in Mohave County," LIUNA says. "The goal of the restructuring is to create more good, union jobs for Arizonans. In no way will jobs be moved to Nevada or will Arizona jobs be taken by Nevadans."

If it's true that no Nevadans will take jobs in Arizona -- something Montoya fears will result from the switch -- then average union members looking for a job have no worries.

The Local 383, on the other hand, stands to take it in the shorts.

Union rules state that members can only work union jobs in the territories assigned to their local chapters. Apparently, if the territories are changed, Local 383 members would have to join the Nevada chapter to work at the proposed solar plant.

That's bound to affect Local 383's collection of union dues. The switch would also mean Local 383 loses power and prestige, and could result in more Arizona territories being ceded to other states, Montoya worries.

That's why Montoya got three vans together earlier this week and bused union members to Kingman to demonstrate against their own union.

"It was a nice, good protest," Montoya says.

The bitter-sounding Montoya says he made a presentation "under protest" at the LIUNA meeting, which reminded him of a "kangaroo court."

Weird. Remember when unions were, um, unified, and protested corporations?

We're not surprised, though -- not with labor unions continuing to lose members and influence in the private sector. Last year, we told you about the unusual case of workers at the Bashas' corporation who staged a demonstration at the headquarters of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99 to protest dirty tactics by that union.

In the pressure cooker of the recession, LIUNA's power play in Mohave County looks like another desperate attempt to boost membership and union coffers -- at the expense of the 83-year-old Local 383.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.