Bureau of National Affairs
No. 234
ISSN 1522-5968

LIUNA's Coia Announces Retirement;
O'Sullivan to Take Over Union Leadership

By Brian Lockett
Dec. 7, 1999

Arthur A. Coia, president of the Laborers' International Union of North America, will retire at the end of this year and be replaced by Terence M. O'Sullivan, the union announced Dec. 6.

Coia's retirement becomes official Jan. 1, 2000, when he will become LIUNA's general president emeritus, having served 10 years as president of the union.

O'Sullivan, 44, said it was "an honor and privilege to be elected to serve" as president of the union. He has served as a LIUNA vice president since last February. "I look forward to serving the more than 500,000 members of this great international and to continuing this union on its path as the most innovative and dynamic in the labor movement," O'Sullivan said in a statement.

Coia Points to Internal Reforms

In a statement issued Dec. 6, Coia said perhaps his "greatest contribution" to the union was the initiative to institute extensive internal reform. "With the support of our leadership and the trust of our membership, we adopted ethical codes of conduct and enforcement procedures unparalleled in the course of labor history," he said.

Coia's retirement announcement had been expected since earlier this fall when sources told BNA that he had agreed to leave his post as part of an agreement related to the Justice-LIUNA program to rid the union of organized crime influence (189 DLR AA-1, 9/39/99).

After an extensive internal investigation, Coia was cleared earlier this year by an internal hearing officer and appellate officer of multiple charges of association with organized crime figures. The sole charge upheld against Coia was over conflict of interest resulting from the purchase of an expensive sports car from an auto dealer in Providence, R.I., which also was a union vendor. Coia was fined $100,000, payable over two years, for "direct conflict of interest" (153 DLR A-11, 8/10/99).

Coia was not available Dec. 6 for comment beyond the statement issued by his office, which indicated he was taking this step in order to spend more time with his family.

In his statement, Coia also said that LIUNA's internal reform program was undertaken "for one reason, and for one reason only--because it was the right thing to do."

He was referring to reforms sought under an unprecedented consent decree negotiated in 1995 by LIUNA and the Justice Department that allowed the union to root out corrupt practices on its own through a range of internal reforms. The Justice Department threatened to file an already prepared 212-page civil complaint under the federal racketeering statute and take over the union if it decides LIUNA had failed to achieve significant reform. Coia was accused in the draft complaint of having been "associated with and controlled and influenced by organized crime.''

The reform system that Coia said he "helped create and have continually promoted," excluded no member or officer from scrutiny. "I myself became the target of an internal investigation when the general executive board attorney brought charges against me," Coia said.

Charges were filed against Coia by the GEB attorney in November 1997 that Coia, between 1986 and 1993, "knowingly permitted organized crime members to influence the affairs of LIUNA, breached his constitutional and fiduciary duties to the union, and improperly accepted benefits from a LIUNA service provider."

The outcome of the investigation--in which Coia was ultimately cleared of all charges except the charge dealing with the sports car--was seen by Coia as vindication of his innocence. Coia asserted throughout the process that he would be cleared of any ties to organized crime.

However, Coia said the ongoing of allegations and investigations have taken their toll. "For far too many years, my entire life has been scrutinized--every action reviewed, every motive analyzed, every decision questioned, every good deed doubted. For far too long, I have asked my family to endure what I had to endure," he said in his Dec. 6 statement.

"But today, the scale has finally tipped in favor of those I have put second for far too many years -- my wife and partner, Joanne, my children, and my grandchildren," Coia said.

"With the election of Terry O'Sullivan ... the future success of LIUNA is assured," he said.

Government Deal?

BNA reported in October that Coia was poised to resign under the terms of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. Government sources familiar with the agreement said Coia's resignation would be followed a few weeks later by a guilty plea on a single felony count pertaining to his purchase of an expensive sports car from a dealer who was also a vendor to Coia's union, the source said.

Asked whether there was a quid pro quo for Coia's retirement, one source close to LIUNA's reform program said it would be "hard to imagine why [Coia] would step down without some reassurance from the government'' in the form of something like a signed plea agreement. Under the circumstances in which Coia finds himself, this source asked why, from a legal perspective, would Coia decide to retire "if he did not have a signed commitment from the government of what he would get in return" for resigning or--more gracefully--retiring, he said.

Asked about the timing of Coia's retirement announcement, one source said it was "about on schedule." The announcement date was affected by the report published by BNA and others this fall, which "likely dragged this thing out," he said. Absent the earlier media reports, he speculated, that the announcement would have been made sooner and perhaps would have been "more graceful."

'His Future Even Brighter Than Past.'

Howard Gutman, an attorney representing Coia, in a Dec. 6 telephone interview, declined to respond to questions on whether Coia has signed or is going to sign an agreement with any federal agency in connection with his retirement.

Rather, Gutman said that his client "has been investigated as much as any person in this country and been fully exonerated of mob allegations. Now his future is even brighter than his past."

Gutman repeated this response but declined further comment when asked whether there were any unresolved tax questions associated with the car lease, whether an announcement could be expected next month that a deal had been struck with Justice on failure to pay taxes on the car deal, or whether any kind of announcement regarding Coia could be expected from Justice in the near future.

New Vice Presidents

Also announced Dec. 6 by LIUNA was that the GEB named Steven Hammond and Joseph Licastro as vice presidents. Licastro was appointed as mid-Atlantic regional manager, replacing O'Sullivan.

Hammond's career with LIUNA began in 1970 as a member of Local 295 in Salt Lake City where he served as business manager. Hammond came to the national office in 1989 to serve as assistant director of the union's construction and jurisdiction department and was named director of the department in 1994. In 1997, Hammond was assigned as a special assistant to the president. Since then he served as the trustee in the consent-decree takeover and reform of Mason Tenders District Council in New York City and Laborers 210 in Buffalo, N.Y., where he currently is posted.

Hammond replaces Peter J. Fosco who was ordered to repay various union entities amounts totaling $80,286 for his work as a "consultant" and has been stripped of union membership in an Oct. 14 ruling by LIUNA's independent hearing officer (200 DLR A-7, 10/18/99).

For the time being, Hammond will remain in Buffalo, where he has been acting as the trustee for Laborers Local 210. A complaint and consent decree were filed in federal court against the local by LIUNA and the Justice Department as part of a plan to accelerate ridding the local of organized crime influence.

Hearing officer Peter F. Vaira found Fosco guilty of 11 of 13 counts of conduct proscribed by federal law and LIUNA's ethical practices code. The charges arose over consulting fees Fosco allegedly charged to several of the union's district councils and local unions for work he did not perform or for which he already was being paid.

Licastro originally was a member of Local 910 in Johnstown, Pa., beginning in 1963 and became business manager in 1964. He currently serves as assistant regional manager for LIUNA's eastern region.

O'Sullivan Praises Coia

O'Sullivan praised Coia as "one of the most dynamic, visionary and dedicated leaders the labor movement has ever seen. His retirement is a major loss for organized labor." Under Coia's leadership, O'Sullivan said, LIUNA "has risen to the forefront of the labor movement in organizing, political action, health and safety, training and education, and labor management cooperation."

O'Sullivan joined LIUNA in 1974 as a member of Local 1353 in Charleston, W.Va. He was administrator of the West Virginia Laborers' Training Fund and served as assistant director of LIUNA's construction, maintenance and service trades department. He was appointed as mid-Atlantic regional manager for the union and an assistant to Coia earlier this year.

Copyright © 1999 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., Washington D.C.

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