Hartford Advocate


Francis J. Zankowski

Not-So-Perfect Union

By John Perritano

September 4, 1997

When Stephen Manos ran for vice president of the Hartford-based Local 230 of the Laborers' International Union in 1995, he thought he could change the way the union was operating.

He believed the 900-member local was being run not for the benefit of its members, but rather for the aggrandizement of a few bigshots who ate expensive meals and cashed huge paychecks at the expense of dues-paying, blue collar members.

"I was overwhelmed by the callous indifference to the rank and file," Manos says. "I'm a 32-year member who thought he could do some good for the members."

After winning the election, Manos' idealism was soon tempered by reality. He found he could do little. Still, Manos says he sought change. Now he is locked in a bitter race with union heavy-weight Charles LeConche for the important position of business manager.

But this election has surpassed the normal definitions of a down-and-dirty campaign. It's gotten so savage that Manos filed an attempted assault complaint with police against LeConche for an incident Manos says occurred July 30 at the Capriccio Ristorante on Franklin Avenue in Hartford.

No arrests have yet been made. Nevertheless, the emotionally-charged battle between the two reflects the importance of this showdown, which will determine whether the union is ready for reform or unwilling to rebuke its entrenched leadership.

Manos has been LeConche's chief critic in recent months. In a newsletter distributed to union members, Manos has taken LeConche to task for a variety of transgressions-including spending thousands of dollars in members' dues on food and drinks at the Capriccio, a landmark in Hartford's heavily Italian South End.

In addition, Manos has chastised the union's leadership for what he calls an illegal picket line that was set up in June by Local 230 at the Homer Babbidge Library at the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs where Manos was working.

"When I was elected in June 1995, I was like the skunk at the picnic. He predicted he couldn't control me," Manos says of LeConche. "He hand-picked the executive board. Except for myself, they are all rubber stamps. I thought I could work with him. I thought I could do something good for the union."

The animosity between the two came to a head July 30 at an executive meeting of the local. In a back room at the Capriccio, Manos says he was questioning the cost of an advertisement the union had placed in The New York Times.

The discussion became heated. LeConche berated Manos for challenging his authority.

Manos told the police that LeConche threatened and charged toward him, but was held back by members of the union.

Manos alleges he was then rushed out the door and knocked to the ground by several of LeConche's supporters, while a vice president of the international union and the local's attorney looked on.

Manos filed a complaint with the Hartford police and went to the emergency room at Manchester Memorial Hospital where records say he was diagnosed with multiple bruises.

LeConche could not be reached for comment despite several calls by the Advocate.

When police questioned LeConche at the scene, he told them what happened was nothing more than a verbal argument. Other members of the executive committee did not want to talk to police instead preferring to finish their meals. "All members present were laughing and joking about the incident," the police report states.

Such intrigue and infighting within Local 230 is nothing new.

In 1995 criminal charges were -brought against business manager Dominick LoPreato for taking $345,000 in bribes after arranging an $8 million investment loan from the union's pension fund to the now-defunct Colonial Realty Co.

LoPreato was found guilty in 1995 and is serving a four-year sentence in federal prison.

"He (LeConche) helps his friends and punishes his enemies," Manos says, adding that he has told several law enforcement agencies about the dealings of the Local. "He's the business manager and he's the boss."

Stephen Manos says the $21 a month that union members pay in dues plus 45 cents of their hourly wage is enough money to pay for adequate leadership, which he says LeConche is not providing.

It may be an idealistic concept, but unions exists for their members, not their leaders. When individuals use the union as their own personal fiefdom and try to squash dissent from within, it is a recipe for disaster. If the members of Local 230 believe their concerns are not being heard, they may have a golden opportunity to change the way their local is being run.

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