Engineering News-Record

LABORERS LODGE ETHICS CHARGES AGAINST COIA, WHO VOWS TO FIGHT

By Sherie Winston

November 17, 1997

The GENERAL EXECUTIVE BOARD ATTORNEY hired by the laborers' union to oversee its internal reform efforts has filed disciplinary charges against union President Arthur A. Coia.

As expected, the internal union charges filed Nov. 6 allege that Coia knowingly associated with members of organized crime between 1986 and 1993, accepted benefits from a union service provider and knowingly permitted organized crime members to influence union affairs. The allegations also claim Coia breached his constitutional and fiduciary duties to the union. Coia denies the charges and claims he will fight the allegations.

Details of the formal charges will not be made public, says Robert Luskin, the board attorney who filed the charges with an independent hearing officer. Luskin declines comment on the specifics, but says his charges do not call for the ouster of Coia. Any penalty recommendations will be made by the hearing officer if he finds Coia guilty, Luskin says. No date has been set for the hearing, which will be closed to the public.

Some industry sources question the success of internal union reform programs and see them as nothing more than buying the reputation of a former government prosecutor to give their organization a clean bill of health.

Internal cleanups are becoming a trend in both business and organized labor, says Carl Biers, executive director of the Brooklyn-based Association for Union Democracy.

The union's reform effort stems from a February 1995 oversight agreement with the U.S. Justice Dept. The government declined to impose a consent decree at that time if the union put a reform program into place.

Part of that plan included the union's first rank-and-file election for general president, which was held in September 1996.

The three-year Justice Dept. deal expires in February and government officials along with the independent overseers hired by the union for the reform effort now are negotiating over the government's future role. No one expects the government to go away in February, claims Luskin, but the government recognizes that the reform program is working.

Industry sources are split over whether Coia will stay the course or step aside and what impact the charges will have on the union. It is unlikely there will be any significant improvement if Coia is removed, says Biers. No likely successor stands out ''with any strong reform credentials,'' he claims