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FRANK ERVOLINO, 72, is making a gradual withdrawal from the local labor scene. That's overdue, but let's not cheer too loudly. Ervolino still draws pay from some positions in which he supposedly protected the interests of low-paid workers. Furthermore, he and his wife are not leaving without their pockets jingling with newfound cash. And they are leaving the unions debt-ridden.

At one time, Ervolino, his wife and their daughter were pulling down more than $350,000 in pay from positions with four unions representing workers who mostly were paid just above the minimum wage. High transiency among these employees made it easy for the workers to barely know who was representing them, much less what the union leaders were doing.

Generous paychecks made Ervolino one of the best-paid union executives in the country, but few would argue that he was doing even a minimal job of looking out for workers' interests. While the rank-and-file members scraped by, Ervolino and his family enjoyed an Amherst home, a condominium in Florida and a summer place at Crystal Beach, Ont. Oh, it's a tough life.

The latest news is that Ervolino's wife picked up checks amounting to $33,000 after the two resigned from positions with Laundry and Dry Cleaning Local 168-39. Financial reports describe the checks as deferred compensation, but they also worked to balloon the union's red ink from a modest amount to a big number.

How much of a pay grab has it been? A national union periodical recently reported that 59 percent of Local 168-39's dues money was going for salaries of Ervolino and four part-time officers. It's the highest percentage for any union in the country.

How deep the debt? Besides the laundry workers' red ink, Ervolino left a union of hospital and nursing home workers more than $128,000 in the hole when he resigned in December. Another Ervolino union for hotel and restaurant workers is more than $124,000 in debt.

What's left? Ervolino is still hanging on as a pension-plan administrator for $52,000 a year. A nice golden parachute awaits his departure from another salaried position.

Ervolino's successor has promised to end the era of big pay, but he's getting $80,000 for heading the hospital workers union, just one of Ervolino's former posts. He claims to be unaware of the deferred compensation that left the laundry workers union in debt.

Ervolino's get-rich antics have given the union movement a black eye. Opponents of organized labor can point to Ervolino with full certainty that his bloodsucker approach is evidence to support their negative viewpoint about any worker organizing.

After all, union dues required from low-paid workers have helped Ervolino and his family live in high style through the years. Instead of protecting them, as a union leader ought to, he has exploited them. Instead of furthering their interests, as he was paid to do, he has furthered his own.

For workers whose every penny counts, Ervolino's departure is a package of good news. The big question is whether the future will turn out to be any better.

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