Part IV:

Laborers Flirt with Reform

Convention, Presidential Election, Rank-and-File Referendum

How much Mafia influence in Laborers? Is the Oversight Agreement working?
Arthur A. Coia claims he is ridding the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) of organized crime and racketeering influence. The Department of Justice (DOJ) appears to agree with him, as do the union's reform supervisors. But appearances can be deceiving in LIUNA.

Coia's rosy picture of reform is contradicted by the congressional testimony of Ronald M. Fino, a former Buffalo LIUNA Local 210 official and a key source of information in the Laborers racketeering investigation.

Fino was an informant for the FBI for 15 years and his testimony has already put mob-connected Laborers Union officials in prison.

At a congressional hearing in July, Fino testified that Coia "was controlled by the mob. That's how he got his job." Fino verified the Justice Department's assertion, in its 212-page draft complaint, that all four presidents in the Laborers' history, including Coia, have associated with and been controlled by organized crime. Asked why he thought so, he said, "Regarding Mr. Coia, because he told me. And talks with his father and numbers of other talks with the Cosa Nostra people."

Congressman James McCollum asked Fino, "Are you telling us that Arthur A. Coia, the current General President of the Laborers International Union of North America, told you that he answers to the mob?" Fino replied,"Yes, he did."

Hard Hat asked Coia1s lawyer, Howard Guttman, about Fino's testimony. Guttman answered that Fino had misunderstood what Coia said to him.

Unconventional Convention

It seems that Laborers President Arthur Coia got everything he could want at the union's 21st Convention, held in Las Vegas the last week in September. His slate, the Unity Team, won all thirteen Vice Presidents' positions on the General Executive Board (GEB), six of them unopposed.

Every resolution he and his Team supported won, and every resolution they opposed lost. Coia himself was nominated for General President by 1705 delegate votes out of 2069 votes cast. And, most important for Coia's future, the U.S. Justice Department and the Election Officer–appointed by the GEB with DOJ approval–blessed the convention and election as clean and fair. He is likely to be re-elected president in a rank-and-file, secret-ballot vote later this year. But appearances can be deceiving in LIUNA.

LIUNA members see the election of their president as the Mafia version of "Family Feud." Coia is allegedly associated with New England's Patriarca crime family of La Cosa Nostra (LCN, also known as the Mob).

Running against Coia is Bruno Caruso, head of the Chicago District Council. It is alleged by sources close to the Laborers-LCN investigation that Caruso is associated with the Chicago family of the same LCN.

Upon closer examination, however, neither "association" allegation has been proven, either in a court of law or in public government documents. Coia seems to be the "Teflon Man of Labor," since no charge of criminal wrong-doing has "stuck" to him during the on-going federal investigation of LIUNA. And Caruso told Hard Hat, "No local or federal agency has ever said to my face that I am a mobster."

Caruso is running, not only against Coia, but against portions of the Agreement the Laborers Union signed with the federal government. At the convention, he sponsored resolutions that would, if passed, have reduced the power of the Inspector General and the GEB Attorney and repudiated the Consent Decree. His campaign material says, "It must be clear by now to every delegate and member that non-elected officers are running our Union. Elect members of the GEB whom you trust and let them run this Union in accordance with the Ethical Practices Code"

On the subject of codes, Caruso told the convention delegates that what with the Oversight Agreement and Coia's leadership of LIUNA, when he called the union's Washington, D.C. headquarters, he now has to speak in "code," whatever that means.

There were seven candidates for international union office to oppose Coia's Unity Team at the convention, and no challenger won a GEB position.

Mike "Butch" Quarcini made a strong challenge to the Unity Team candidate in the 7th District (Western Upstate New York, Western Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia), coming within four votes out of 170 delegate votes cast, of unseating the incumbent, Vice President Jack Wilkinson. Independent challengers for two District Vice-President positions, Jim MacKinnon and Frank Johnson, made poorer showings, both failing to get even 20% of their district1s vote.

Three challengers for the At-Large Vice-President positions (Alfred Hazel from Macon, Georgia; Robert Brown from Rochester, New York; and, Alex Corns from San Francisco, California) picked up votes from outside their home areas, but still finished far behind Coia's slate. Only Hazel got more than 40%. All three vow to continue working for meaningful reform in the Laborers Union.

Convention delegates voted in a hefty pay raise for the international officers. They also passed a dues increase and voted to end the union's Death Benefit for new members, effective 1997. A resolution for Canadian autonomy was voted down.

The price tag for this convention, though not yet revealed by LIUNA, was substantial, causing one California member to ask, "Is there a link between the convention expense and the end of the Death Benefit?"

Before the convention, Hard Hat obtained a document that indicated LIUNA international headquarters staff had been required to contribute to a fund for the re-election of GEB officers. The existence of this fund was not reported in The Laborer, the official magazine of LIUNA. Robert Luskin, LIUNA's GEB Attorney, assured Hard Hat that the fund collected only $40,000 since 1993, all the money was given back, none was spent for campaigning, it was all voluntary, and it won't happen again. Still, there were a lot of expensive Unity Team posters and buttons in Las Vegas that were paid for somehow.

John L. Smith of the Las Vegas Review-Journal described some of those present at the LIUNA convention: "three dozen off-duty cops, mostly from Chicago, who have worked the room as a private security force and bodyguard service for the union officials" There to guard Coia and other GEB members, these policemen and "officers from New York, Massachusetts and even San Diego, applied for and received temporary permits to carry concealed weapons." Smith also wrote, "The government accuses the union bosses of being mob guys; the accused mob guys cut a deal with the government to remain in the union by promising to root out the mob guys in said union; the cops, whose job it is to watch and arrest mob guys, instead are hired to serve and protect the so-called mob guys."

Before the nomination and election of officers, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney addressed the convention. Sweeney gave Coia such a rousing endorsement speech that the LIUNA Election Officer, Stephen Goldberg, felt compelled to award the other two candidates for general president time at the podium.

Sweeney had been warned by the Election Officer not to go too far in endorsing Coia. Goldberg even edited Sweeney's speech to cut the most fawning references, but Sweeney chose to ignore Goldberg and deliver his speech unedited. Goldberg had little choice but to try to even the balance.

When the first of the two challengers, Barney Scanlon (see "Stand-Up Guy" on page 17), began his speech, more than half the delegates walked out of the hall as though on cue.

Rank-and-File Vote

Along with electing a union president in November and December, LIUNA members will have the chance to change the way the rest of international officers on the GEB are elected. The Rank-and-File Referendum poses this question:

"Beginning in 2001, how should District Vice Presidents and Vice-Presidents-at-Large be elected:

___ by direct vote of the LIUNA membership?

___ by vote of delegates to the LIUNA convention?"

Contained within this simple choice is a very large opportunity. If the direct vote wins, top LIUNA officers will be directly elected by actual laborers, the people who pay the dues–something no other building trades union does, except for the court-supervised Teamsters.

LIUNA Election Officer Stephen Goldberg has called this"the most important election I will supervise" for the Laborers Union. Voting will be by walk-in or mail-in voting, depending on location.

When Hard Hat asked Arthur Coia what his position was on the Referendum, he answered, "I don't have a position on the Referendum. We're letting each individual member exercise his own free will and whatever he feels that he would like to be carried out." When asked by Hard Hat if he favors the rank-and-file vote in the Referendum, Bruno Caruso1s reply was, "Yes. I want the members to be involved as much as they can." He also said he favors in-person voting over mail-in.

Alex Corns, one of the challengers for At-Large Vice President, has come out for expanding the Referendum to include District Council officers. Corns, along with other LIUNA members in California, has formed "Laborers for Justice and Democracy" and publishes a newsletter, The Voice of the Rank & File. They can be reached at:

Laborers for Justice and Democracy,
1601 Ocean Avenue #346,
San Francisco, CA 94112.

What Are the Odds?

Will the membership of this near-century-old union at last get to have some real democracy? Only if the federal government makes it safe for rank-and-file unionists to act openly, without fearing loss of life, limb or livelihood.

Before the convention, Hard Hat asked Coia, "Are you acting on any reports that you receive from the field that there is intimidation and coercion?" Coia replied, "I haven't received any reports from the field. If there were any reports, they would go directly to the Inspector General and he is not making me privy to that"

Will Arthur Coia face an indictment whether he wins or not? he remains a subject of investigation by both the federal government and the Inspector General. Keep an eye on upstate New York Republican prosecutors for any sudden moves.

Will the government enforce the Consent Decree if Bruno Caruso wins? It may, but the Justice Department has not yet made any moves to implement the Consent Decree. It is a good bet that Caruso, like Coia, is the subject of investigative activity.

Does the DOJ have any surprises in store for the Laborers? Despite top-level Justice Department approval of LIUNA's reform effort, among many career gang-busters at Justice, there is increasing dissatisfaction with the way the LIUNA/Mafia situation is being handled. Some say the Department is being made to look ineffective in the face of slick mob maneuvering.

"Stand-Up Guy" Award

A working laborer, running on a shoestring for the presidency of this powerful union, provided the class act of LIUNA's expensive Las Vegas convention. Barney Scanlon, a 70-year-old laborer from Local 66, Long

Island, New York, was the third candidate for General President.

He got 39 delegate votes, not enough to get on the rank-and-file election ballot for President, but enough to put a real rank-and-file laborer on the convention podium.

With the odds so clearly against him, why did Scanlon run? Scanlon told his local newspaper, Newsday, "Why is a 70-year-old man running? Because no one else will do it. The answer is the intimidation factor. If they run, they can be penalized. A young man with a mortgage, car payments and children cannot afford to put his livelihood in jeopardy."

Scanlon knows about intimidation. As a member of Local 66 from 1953 to 1973, he often opposed his local leaders. "They starved me out," Scanlon claims, by 1973. At the urging of rank-and-filers, he rejoined the local 16 years later.

Scanlon only got to Las Vegas because Stephen Goldberg, the LIUNA Election Officer, declared three of Local 66's convention delegates to be ineligible.

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