CAN ANYONE find anything positive to say about the Ironworkers union members who are on trial for acts of vandalism, intimidation and other serious misdeeds? Who could feel anything but revulsion for the means employed by these parties in pursuit of their ends? These acts validate unionists as "bosses, goons, hoodlums, hooligans."

The preliminary jail terms are quoted at a mandatory minimum of 15 years, and for those who confessed maybe half that. Sentencing may invoke two-to-three-time term guideline multipliers under federal statutes.

Yet, daily, well-respected corporations are cited for multi-hundred-million dollar and sometimes billion-dollar fines for violations against their employees, competitors, stockholders, customers or the government. On January 15, the Wall Street Journal reported that JPMorgan Chase reserved $990 million for fines stemming from a foreign exchange scandal. Last year, six banks paid a total of $4.3 billion in fines. The Jan. 14 New York Times detailed a $400 million settlement by Apple, Intel, Google and Adobe Systems for conspiring to restrict 60,000 employees from getting higher-paid job offers.

The Ironworkers were trying to defend their jobs and prevailing area wages and benefits for their members. What they did was wrong and misguided - vandalism, property damage, intimidation, in some cases physical violence. Does it rise to the level that justifies 10-to-15-year and higher mandatory prison sentences? Most people today would say, "Yes, lock them up and throw away the key."

For the perpetrators on the corporate side, it's hard to find any positive motive. Fines and penalties are paid for out of corporate cash registers. No one is charged with a crime and no one is going to jail. The typical corporate spokesman comment is, "While admitting no guilt in this instance, we are pleased to be putting this behind us so that we may move forward with our core business activities." Criminal prosecutorial pursuit from the U.S. Justice Department or state prosecutors is astoundingly absent from these cases.

Corporate violations frequently involve serious injuries and loss of life, for safety violations in automobile, oil and pharmaceutical industries. Others involve cheating customers, competitors and stockholders, many of whom suffer loss of life savings, gainful employment and psychological impairment. The violence and monetary damages of these repeated events far exceed the acts of vandalism of one local union. But where is the serious self-searching on what is an equitable balance in the administration of justice?

Jim Martin