Friday, June 10, 2011

Central Labor Council Nominates New President

Vincent Alvarez resigned his position as chief of staff last year in protestation of ethics violations he saw in the group's former president, Jack Ahern. Now, the Council is rallying for his hire.

Vincent Alvarez, who resigned last year as chief of staff of the Central Labor Council after raising questions about the ethics of its president, was the sole nominee Thursday night to be the next leader of the organization.

A 21-year member of Local 3 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a native of Staten Island, Mr. Alvarez won the esteem of union leaders over two decades of volunteer work with the Council. And his move to stand up to former Central Labor Council President Jack Ahern—and ultimately resign over Mr. Ahern's use of a limousine and other questionable leadership decisions—helped cement his reputation within labor circles.

“He is the most honest and decent guy you’ll ever meet,” said Ed Ott, a former executive director of the Council who is now a distinguished lecturer in labor studies at the City University of New York’s Murphy Institute. “This is what the Council needs. It will reassure the members that the place is now in good hands."

Some 200 delegates turned out for the meeting. They proposed a constitution amendment allowing the umbrella organization representing the city’s unions to have a full-time president and nominated Mr. Alvarez to be that leader. Previous presidents also held leadership positions with other unions and two—Brian McLaughlin and Mr. Ahern—ended up embroiling the organization in scandal.

Mr. McLaughlin was sentenced in 2009 to 10 years in prison for racketeering and Mr. Ahern resigned his position in March under pressure after concerns emerged about his leadership, including a report from his own international union that questioned his expenses, which topped $200,000 a year.

On June 30, delegates will vote on the change to the constitution and on Mr. Alvarez’s nomination.

Mr. Alvarez, 42, would be the first Hispanic president of the Council since it merged with the AFL-CIO in 1959. His father emigrated from Cuba, and his mother is Irish-American.

For years, he volunteered to coordinate the annual Labor Day parade. Central Labor Council insiders often joked that his salary, which was $0, should be doubled because of all his work. About four years ago, he was finally hired by the Council to serve as its chief of staff, a position he resigned in November. He remains a dues-paying member of Local 3 and had been working at the state AFL-CIO since he quit the labor council.

Other Central Labor Council staffers followed him out the door, putting in motion a process that prompted state AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes to temporarily take the reins of the organization. For several months, Mr. Hughes has been working to put a process into place that would help the Council regain its footing and ensure problems that plagued it in the past are not repeated. Labor insiders say that Mr. Hughes, who also comes out of Local 3, pushed Mr. Alvarez’s candidacy.

If elected, Mr. Alvarez would become president at a time when the city’s unions are facing stiff battles over pensions, layoffs and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s attempt to open stores here, among other contentious issues. He could be elected the same day some two dozen construction union contracts are set to expire.

A Council spokesman confirmed Mr. Alvarez’s nomination, but said neither he nor Mr. Alvarez could comment further until the final vote was taken.

George Reilly, business manager at Plumbers Local 1, who nominated Mr. Alvarez Thursday night, called him a “principled man” who stood up for what was right in confronting Mr. Ahern.

“Sometimes he has worked behind the scenes, and at other times he has been right out in front, but no matter where he worked, he always conducted himself with dignity and integrity,” Mr. Reilly said in his nomination speech Thursday night. “I know this firsthand. I’ve worked with him, and I’ve witnessed it over and over, especially during the past 18 months, a difficult period now in the rear view mirror."