Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Union Losses Being Probed


A spokesman for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America said the national union is conducting a "complete wall-to-wall review" of the troubled Empire State Regional Council of Carpenters, which it took over in late April.

Scott Widmeyer, a spokesman for the national union, said he couldn't verify reports that $160 million in pension and other benefit funds may have been lost after the Empire Council invested money with Bernard Madoff, who has admitted he operated a Ponzi scheme.

"To verify that number presently would be premature," he said. "The goal is to get things to a situation ... to minimize losses to the union and its members."

Widmeyer confirmed that the national union placed the Empire Council under supervision following two days of hearings at the end of March in downtown Albany.

The national union's vice president for the Eastern District, Frank G. Spencer, has been put in charge of the Empire Council.

Among the locals affected is Carpenters Local 370 in Albany, which has 900 members in the Capital Region. It had money in several employee benefit plans that invested with Madoff.

But the Empire Council may have made the situation worse for the upstate locals by allocating a greater portion of the losses upstate.

Widmeyer said it was too soon to say whether the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which guarantees pension plans, would have a role to play in safeguarding carpenters' pensions.

"Again, the focus presently is on getting a complete handle on the losses and working to minimize losses," Widmeyer said.

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