Part V:

Laborers Vote for Democracy

First Time Members Vote: Presidential Election, Rank-and-File Referendum

Members Choose Democracy in a Landslide; Coia Re-Elected; Election Officer Calls for More Reform; Insider Describes Abuses

When given the chance for more democracy, members of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) said, "Yes!"

In a historic referendum vote, and by a margin of more than 3-to-1, Laborers became the first construction union in America to deal themselves into the running of their own union. When all the votes were in, the final tally was 50,000 in favor of direct election of the General Executive Board, and fewer than 14,000 opposed. The referendum won in every area, including LIUNA President Arthur Coia1s base, the New England Region.

This result came despite a whispering campaign in several locations against direct voting. The essence of that campaign was, "The members are too stupid to elect their own vice-presidents. Let the convention delegates elect them, just like it has always been done."

Coia Re-elected

In the same balloting as the referendum, Laborers returned President Coia to office by a margin of more than 2-to-1. Coia1s opponent, Bruno Caruso of Chicago, did little campaigning and spent little money, yet more than 22,000 Laborers voted for him. More than 45,000 LIUNA members voted for Coia.

Some observers were disappointed by what they saw as a low voter turnout, with only 16% of eligible members voting for either candidate. But this ignores the fact that this was the first election in Laborers Union history that actually involved the members in a direct vote for their own leadership: new habits, like democracy, are slow to be adopted by people used to being told who their next set of leaders will be. It is entirely likely that the next Laborers Union general election, scheduled for 2001, will have a much greater turnout.

In the election for president of this 700,000-member union, Arthur Coia held all the aces. He came out of the union's convention in Las Vegas with the open support of every international vice-president (see Hard Hat, Fall 1996).

He had the entire structure of the union behind him, with all the weight of the hiring halls.

Given all the advantages for the incumbent, perhaps the surprise here is that the difference between Arthur Coia and Bruno Caruso was only 23,000 votes.

The Election Officer's Summary of Election Results says 445,754 members were eligible to vote. So 5% of LIUNA members decided this election. Coia lost in Caruso's home area, the Great Lakes Region, and also in the Mailhandlers division. These two sections also voted for the rank-and-file referendum by the highest margins. The lowest voter turnout was in the Southeast Region, with only 7% of eligible voters casting ballots.

Election Officer's Report

The LIUNA Election Officer, Stephen Goldberg, ran the cleanest election in Laborers Union history. He and his staff worked for the right of every laborer to vote without intimidation, and with as much information as possible. Goldberg pushed for mail balloting to assure LIUNA members that there would be no "payback" for voting. Evidently, rank-and-file laborers agree with him: in the 557 locals that voted by mail, the voter turnout was more that 16%, while in the 93 locals that voted in-person, the turnout was less than 10%.

The Election Officer's Report makes several suggestions for improving the LIUNA election process. The 57-page report, dated February 11, 1997, recommends:

  • * Continue the supervision of LIUNA by the Justice Department until at least 2001.

  • * Strengthen the Election Office and continue that office until at least 2001.

  • * Put local union elections under the supervision of the Election Officer. The Election Officer should create and enforce rules to insure that Local Union officer elections are conducted in a free, fair and democratic manner, beginning with the 1997 elections.

  • * Continue the use of the mail-in ballot in LIUNA elections. When the Election Officer encouraged Local Unions to use mail-in balloting for the 1996 election, LIUNA protested vigorously. Nonetheless, 557 locals chose to vote by mail, while 93 opted for walk-in elections. The voting rate was 17% in the mail elections, and 10% in the walk-in elections.

  • * Drop the current requirement that a candidate for International office must be a convention delegate.

  • * Change from July 1 to September 1 the date by which a member must declare an intention to seek International office.

  • * Prohibit the nomination and election of convention delegates at the same meeting.

  • * End slate voting. Slates may continue, but the practice of allowing a single vote for a slate, instead of a vote for each member of the slate, shuts out challengers and is contrary to one of the overall goals of the Election Rules–to strengthen participative democracy within LIUNA by encouraging more members to become politically active.

  • * End mandatory pre-nomination verification of eligibility. Candidates should have the opportunity for pre-nomination verification, but not the requirement.

  • * Require Local Unions to publish and distribute to their members, at no charge, the campaign literature of candidates for convention delegate.

  • Expand the space available to candidates in the pages of The Laborer.

  • * The Election Officer for the 2001 delegate and International officer elections should begin preparations for those elections no later than April 1, 2000.

  • * Provide for the election of substitute delegates, so Local Unions will not be penalized when elected delegates are unable to attend the Convention.

  • * Clarify the "working at the calling" requirement for Convention delegates. It is too easy for incumbents to abuse this: more protests were filed concerning "working at the calling" than for any other issue.

  • * End the 3%-2% requirement for International office. This rule says a candidate for International office must get nomination votes from at least two different Regions (at least 3% from one, and 2% from another).

  • * Take additional steps to assure members that the hiring hall will not be used to retaliate against challengers to incumbent officers.

  • * Remove the Election Officer from the jurisdiction of the Independent Hearing Officer (IHO). Eliminate IHO review of Election Officer decisions. Review should be by an outside independent neutral selected jointly by LIUNA and the Justice Department.

    The IHO was appointed by the incumbent LIUNA officers, and was not selected for his expertise in union elections or internal union governance. The IHO, Peter Vaira, reversed several Election Officer decisions, merely substituting his own decisions without any greater knowledge or experience.

    For example, when the Election Officer required LIUNA to make available to all members the federal government's 212-page draft RICO complaint, the Independent Hearing Officer reversed that decision, preventing LIUNA members from having easy access to the document that jump-started the historic agreement between LIUNA and the Department of Justice.


    "Although some progress has been made in transforming LIUNA into a participative political democracy, that progress is both limited and fragile. The problems which led to the 1994 draft RICO complaint did not develop overnight, and they will not be cured overnight.

    In this Report, we recommend that the reforms instituted by the 1996 agreement between LIUNA and the Department of Justice be expanded, and that Department of Justice supervision of LIUNA be extended through at least the 2001 elections. Only if these recommendations are followed is there any realistic likelihood that LIUNA will develop into a participative democracy, in which members will use the ballot box to keep LIUNA free of the corruption and criminal influence which led to the 1994 draft RICO complaint."

    How Much ?

    Total cost of the Election Officer's supervision: $5 million, $1.5 million under budget.

    Inside LIUNA and La Cosa Nostra

    by Ronald M. Fino

    I know it is difficult for many of the union's members to understand this, but our [LIUNA officials'] every move was dictated by the mob and the different Cosa Nostra crime families. I would have to write a book to list all the schemes and abuses the international union and its members were subjected to and kept in the dark about.

    Not one international official or representative could be elected or appointed without the mob's approval. How I became a member, then a business agent and an international trustee is a perfect example of this.

    As the son of a Cosa Nostra member, my rise to power in the Laborers Union was easy. Who stood in my way, the membership?

    How It Works

    The first and foremost rule in the Cosa Nostra is its own perpetuation. Cosa Nostra members and their relatives need a place of legitimate employment–the labor movement and its benefit funds prove to be ideal for accomplishing this. And union assets can easily provide an additional source of currency.

    As a mob-associated LIUNA official, I witnessed a cancer that seemed unstoppable, ever-growing and quite capable of buying off any potential trouble. Unfortunately, the only union members who knew of the mob's existence were either mobsters themselves, mob-controlled union officials, or relatives; all were recipients of the plush jobs that came through the union hall.

    I will never forget one incident that happened while I was the Business Manager of Buffalo Laborers Local 210. As I entered the hall one morning, an unemployed member came up to me pleading, "Please, Ronnie, please! I just need a job–McDonalds, anything." He said that he could not afford to buy a dress for his daughter1s graduation, did not even have food for his family1s table. He didn't care about getting union scale, he just needed work.

    I wanted to cry. Here I was, the union Business Manager, the person who is supposed to protect my union brothers. Yet I was not allowed to do my job, to fill work referrals, without getting the "okay"from the union's Secretary-Treasurer, who was also a member of the Cosa Nostra. He wasn't there that day because he was playing golf.

    When he came in the next day, I asked him if I could send the distressed member out on a job that had just been called in. He responded by saying "[Expletive] him!" and that he was going to give that job to the son of a mob associate.

    In 1973, I talked with an FBI agent that I knew. I berated him for the Bureau's lack of response to the plight of many of our union workers. He responded by saying, "If people like you are willing to help, then maybe something can be done."

    From that day until I surfaced in 1988, I held more than four thousand meetings with Bureau agents. Much of the information I provided showed how the Cosa Nostra controlled the international union.

    In 1991, the FBI decided to put together a special team of agents to bring a civil RICO action against those captive LIUNA officials and the mobsters who controlled them. It would be a tough struggle–after all, these officials were quite wealthy. They had access to the country1s finest attorneys, public relations firms, legal defense funds and vast pools of cash.

    Fosco, Fosco, Coia & Coia

    I became quite close to the late General Presidents Peter and Angelo Fosco, and to the late General Secretary-Treasurer Arthur Coia, Sr., as well as to the late New York Regional Vice President Mike Lorello.

    Both the Foscos answered to the Chicago family of the Cosa Nostra ("the Outfit"). Arthur Coia, Sr., and his son, Arthur Coia, Jr. (now the President of LIUNA), answered to the Patriarca family of Providence, Rhode Island. Mike Lorello answered to the Genovese family of New York City.

    When Pete Fosco died, Terrance O1Sullivan was the General Secretary-Treasurer and the late Vernie Reed was the First Vice President. Both wanted the presidency of the union, but the Chicago family, who owned that position, would not allow it. So Terry O1Sullivan was asked to leave the union and Vernie Reed was given the position of General Secretary-Treasurer.

    The Chicago family had not groomed anyone for this high office. Angelo Fosco was considered a weakling and inept–he was not prepared for the job. Rather than give up the position, the Chicago family decided to have Angelo made president anyway. This decision would haunt "the Outfit" and eventually lead to a split between those loyal to Angelo Fosco and the forces of Arthur Coia, Sr.

    The Cosa Nostra has been, and continues to be, the most successful example of organized crime in the history of mankind. Its well-known"punishment by

    death" methods can send shudders through even the strongest of men. As great as America is, we have only the Witness Protection Program to protect those that testify in open court. Because of this, only those trying to beat a jail sentence are willing to stare into those cold, vengence-filled eyes when they meet in a courtroom.The only way to stop the Cosa Nostra's control in LIUNA is with a major effort by the U.S. Justice Department.

    Who is Ron Fino?

    For 16 years Ron Fino was an FBI informant inside the Mafia. Unlike most mob informants, he volunteered. He was not trapped by the police, he was not trying to turn in mob associates in exchange for a lighter prison sentence, and he was not trying to get rich.

    Ron Fino tried to do the right thing, and he has paid the price. He lost his good LIUNA job, he lost his family and in 1989 the Buffalo Cosa Nostra put a price on his head.

    He lives on the run, while many of the mobsters he incriminated are still leading the plush life.

    Fino recently resigned from the LIUNA Inspector General1s office because he felt his identity had been compromised, endangering his family.

    In this Special Report written exclusively for Hard Hat, Fino comments on the LIUNA reform effort and paints a picture of the secret life of corrupt officials that LIUNA members never get to see.

    While Ron Fino has been attacked and vilified, his integrity is uncompromised. The FBI and those he has worked with in the LIUNA reform campaign are convinced his information is solid, and his service to LIUNA members stands as honest and self-sacrificing.

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