updated 6/9/2005 11:20:21 AM ET 2005-06-09T15:20:21

The state is investigating allegations that longshoremen’s union locals in Boston have placed children as young as 2½ on the payroll in a scheme to give them higher wages as adult dockworkers.

Massachusetts Port Authority officials have turned their records over to Attorney General Thomas Reilly’s office and the State Police, said Kurt Schwartz, chief of the attorney general office’s criminal bureau. Reilly’s office has launched a grand jury probe.

Because seniority is determined by when a union member first receives a union card, regardless of the number of hours worked, union members who got their children enrolled are believed to have ensured that their children would receive higher pay, Schwartz said in a statement Wednesday.

“The attorney general is investigating allegations that the seniority of some union members has been fraudulently exaggerated, resulting in excessive wages being paid,” Schwartz said.

Name triggered inquiry
An industry official involved in the investigation told The Boston Globe the alleged scam was uncovered earlier this year when shipping officials noticed that a new union member had the same name as the 10-year-old granddaughter of a prominent longshoreman.

A check of her Social Security number confirmed who she was, the official said, and a more thorough review of records showed that as many as 30 children had been put on the payroll for a few hours a year going back as far as 1986.

“We were absolutely shocked,” Massachusetts Port Authority spokeswoman Danny Levy told the Boston Herald. “When Massport was made aware of the discrepancy, we contacted the attorney general and began our own internal audit.”

Union response
John McMahon, a lawyer for the International Longshoremen’s Association, said he had heard about the investigation of three locals, and declined to comment further. The three locals reported a total membership of 250 in 2000.

International spokesman James McNamara said the union’s ethical practices office will investigate the allegations “if there is something concrete.”

The industry official told the Globe that payroll checks were issued in the children’s names, but that it was unclear who had cashed them or how much money was involved.

Longshoremen in Boston offload shipping containers from ships and barges, and also handle cargo, supplies and baggage for cruise ship dockings. Fifty to 100 longshoremen work on the docks at any given time.

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