The Hartford Courant

Impediments to Union Democracy


May 1, 1998

Stephen G. Manos said he got his usual welcome Wednesday night at Laborers Local 230, the Hartford construction union where Manos has been a member for 33 years and an officer for the past three.

A burly sergeant-at-arms passed a metal detector over him, checking for a hidden tape recorder, before a meeting of the executive board at the union hall. Later, he was shouted down while trying to speak at the general membership meeting.

``It was a real zoo. I should've been in the WWF, instead of the Laborers Union,'' said Manos - the ``WWF'' being a wry reference to the televised theatrics of the World Wrestling Federation. ``I was booed and hissed.

Manos, 53, of Glastonbury, said his journey from insider to outcast began two years ago, when he decided to do the unthinkable: challenge the union's boss, business manager Charles LeConche, in an election next month for that key job with the union.

He will tell his story Monday, when he testifies in Washington before a congressional subcommittee on ``Impediments to Union Democracy.'' It is a subject Manos said he knows well.

The hearing will focus welcome attention on a stubborn problem: a history of dissents being crushed in the labor movement, said Herman Benson, the founder of a Brooklyn, N.Y., advocacy group, the Association for Union Democracy.

The first witness will be Clyde W. Summers, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a board member of the Association for Union Democracy.

He will be followed by Manos.

Manos expects to tell the story of being summoned into LeConche's office six days after Manos' election as vice president in June 1995. LeConche, he said, abruptly told him: ``I reward my friends and punish my enemies.''

His problems with LeConche began after he complained that the union owed him money. Their relationship quickly deteriorated, and LeConche invited Manos to take him on if he didn't like the way the union operated, Manos said.

Since becoming a candidate for business manager, Manos said he has been repeatedly harassed. Union members physically threw him out of an executive board meeting in July, he said.

Hartford police investigated the incident, but declined to make any arrests. Manos also complained to W. Douglas Gow, who was named inspector general by the Laborers' union international organization as part of a series of government-pressured reforms in 1995.

``We took steps to ensure remedial actions were taken by the local to preclude any further incidents, but declined to take any disciplinary actions,'' said Robert Luskin, the lawyer for the union's executive board in Washington.

LeConche since has sued Manos, who had secretly taped the July meeting and shared a copy with the FBI. LeConche said in the suit that Manos violated his rights. Manos said LeConche now begins all executive board meetings by having his sergeant-at-arms make sure no one is wired.

LeConche, who became the top Laborers leader in Connecticut after the indictment and bribery conviction of his predecessor, Dominick Lopreato, did not respond to repeated requests this week for interviews.

Manos said he believes he has been blacklisted by Local 230's hiring hall, a common complaint by dissidents in construction unions. One company that employed him, Capitol Concrete of Newington, was harassed by the union, he said.

The company's owner, Antonio Luiz, confirmed that he had a bad stretch with the Laborers, but said he cannot prove it was because he employed Manos.

``They were after my company,'' Luiz said. ``They brought me up on several phony charges. They put stewards on the job that were just there to give me a hard time and create chaos and frustrate me.''

``As far as the union squeezing [Manos], they never came out and told me they didn't want him working here. They can't do that, of course,'' Luiz said. ``I just sensed they didn't want him working here. I sensed it.''

Luiz said he eventually laid off Manos because there wasn't enough work, not because of union pressure. A foreman who is on Manos' slate still works for Capitol Concrete, Luiz said.

Local 230 is affiliated with the Laborers International Union of North America, which narrowly avoided being placed in receivership by the U.S. Justice Department in early 1995 for anti-democratic practices and ties to organized crime.

The international promised a series of reforms, including the establishment of an inspector general's office. But dissidents in the union say the reforms have failed to make a difference.

Ronald Nobili, the business manager of Local 665 of Bridgeport, filed suit in federal court in November 1995, complaining that the Laborers' statewide organization improperly cut its budget because he did not support the statewide leadership. The statewide organization also is run by LeConche.

Nobili said the Laborers will not become democratic until its members believe they can speak out without being denied the $12.80-to $16.50-an-hour laborers' jobs that often are tightly controlled by the union's leadership.

Manos said he is looking forward to testifying Monday. He is unsure what might come of his testimony, but, he said, it will be a pleasure to speak out somewhere other than his union hall.

``No one is going to boo me,'' Manos said. ``No one is going to attack me.''

Return to

(c) All original work Copyright 1998. All rights reserved..