On the other end of the spectrum
of the union movement is the departure from the scene of another
union leader. Arthur A. Coia stepped down as general president
of the Laborers' International Union effective Jan. 1 (ENR 12/13/99,
p. 13). To many, Coia represented a hope for a new unionism, where
labor could act as management's partner, rather than as an opponent.
He can rightly boast of establishing the position of laborer as
an apprenticeable trade.
But in reality, Coia's tenure
as Laborers' president and the circumstances of his ultimate departure
is disheartening. The union and Coia have been under investigation
by federal law enforcement agents probing corruption allegations,
including accusations of organized crime control of the union
The U.S. Justice Dept. several
years ago prepared a widely circulated draft indictment against
Coia listing a broad spectrum of allegations of corrupt activities,
ranging from bribery and kickbacks, mob ties, self-dealing and
the like that allegedly pervaded the entire union. None of these
allegations ever got to the point where they had to be proven.
Some say this proposed indictment was used by Justice as a lever
to force Coia to clean house in the union. But if even a small
percentage of the allegations were true, it would paint a sad
betrayal of everything a union leader should stand for.
Now, Coia has pleaded guilty
in criminal court to evading taxes on the purchase of not one,
but three Ferraris (see p. 13), including one costing over $ 1
million. And his new title of president emeritus of the Laborers'
union, a purely ceremonial post, will pay him $ 250,000 a year.
Arthur Coia said he wanted
to be remembered as a man who helped to reorganize the union.
Instead, he will be remembered as a tax dodger with a high-paying,
cushy job who drove off into the sunset in $ 1-million Ferrari
paid for by the dues of hardworking members of his union. It is
an image typifying the worst stereotypes of organized labor. Laborers'
union members, and the labor movement in general, deserve better.