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LABOR: Nixon’s Union Friend

4 minute read

Last month when George Meany and the AFL-CIO at its convention in Florida boomed approval of a resolution calling for President Nixon to resign or be impeached, White House officials pointed to press coverage of the event as an example of distorted reporting. Not all labor leaders had supported the resolution, complained the White House, and thus the reports that the AFL-CIO decision was unanimous were misleading. The Administration’s example of a pro-Nixon labor leader: Paul Hall, president of the Seafarers’ Union and member of the 35-man AFL-CIO executive council. It was an example that may prove to be more embarrassing to the Administration than helpful.

Hall did oppose the resign-or-be-impeached resolution when it was presented by Meany to the executive session of the giant labor federation’s council. He alone among the 31 members present at the closed-door, prebreakfast session voted no to the proposal. Later in the day, when the resolution went before the 2,000 delegates to the convention, Hall sat stonily silent through the discussion and the floor vote; the resolution passed unanimously. Since executive sessions are held in secret and only the later convention meeting was open to the press, newsmen did not know Hall’s position until the White House singled him out for praise.

Widespread Practice. Hall has good reasons to be fond of Richard Nixon’s Administration. The President has been a supporter of record Government subsidies for maritime industries, which now amount to some $ 1 billion for such items as direct aid to shipbuilders and reimbursements to shippers for the salaries of crews. But in addition to fostering the growth of the shipping industry, the Nixon Administration has been kind to Hall in other ways.

In 1970 the Justice Department under Attorney General John Mitchell indicted Hall and seven other Seafarers’ Union officials for violations of the Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it illegal for corporations or unions to donate money to political campaigns. The case against Hall was strong. The Government reportedly had witnesses ready to testify that the union forced them to contribute to political causes, a practice so widespread within the union that the Seafarers’ Political Activity Donation Fund (SPAD) was the richest such fund within the AFL-CIO and enabled Hall to disburse nearly $ 1,000,000 in campaign donations in 1968. At the time of the indictment, union officials did not even bother to refute the charges. Rather, they claimed that the Government’s action was political, as most of the campaign money had gone to Democrats, including President Nixon’s 1968 opponent, Hubert Humphrey.

While Hall and his lieutenants waited for the ax to fall, however, the Government unaccountably sat on its hands. Curiously, the Justice Department at the same time was preparing its case against United Mine Workers Boss Tony Boyle under the same Corrupt Practices Act. But while the Boyle case ended in prosecution and conviction, the one against Hall was dismissed by the court in May last year on the grounds that the Government had not pushed it in prompt fashion. The Justice Department did not appeal the decision, in effect simply dropping the case.

Just days before the 1972 presidential election, Hall provided a token of his gratitude to the Nixon Administration in the form of a $100,000 SPAD donation to the Committee for the Re-election of the President. The gift bore a striking similarity to one Hall made in 1968 when the Democratic Administration of Lyndon Johnson rejected a Canadian attempt to extradite High Seafarers Official Hal Banks to Canada on charges of perjury. Hall at that tune immediately donated $100,000 to the presidential war chest of Hubert Humphrey. In neither case was there any suggestion of prior bargaining between the Government and the union.

Still, the 1972 gift has some curious aspects. On the same day that the $100,000 went to the Nixon re-election committee, the union borrowed exactly $100,000 from the Chemical Bank of New York, though no loan should have been necessary if the money had come from voluntary contributions by members, as required by law. Moreover, the Nixon committee waited three months to report the union’s contribution, though the law clearly states that donations must be reported within 48 hours of receipt. Now the one man singled out by the Administration as a friend from the ranks of labor may become embroiled in the Watergate scandal. Last week TIME learned that Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski’s investigators have begun probing the Seafarers’ donation to see if it was in any way illegal.

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