Toronto Star


Ontario Unionists Risk Jobs As Revolt Surfaces

By John Deverell

March 24,1985:

Ontario members of the Laborers International Union are taking big risks in a battle to break iron grip of their Washington overlords. The International union's control in Ontario has been slipping for several years. In response, its top officers- president Angelo Fosco and treasurer

Arthur Coia have resorted to selective trusteeships to maintain their hold over nearly 30,000 dues paying Ontario members.

The union's U.S. membership has slumped from 600,000 in 1980 to a recently reported 450,000 but the Canadian membership has held much steadier at about 58,000.One danger facing Washington leaders is that Canadian Laborers might follow the example of Canadian Auto Workers and pull out of their International Union entirely.

In addition to other problems a breakaway might cause, the financial stakes are important to Fosco and Coia. In statements filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, Fosco acknowledged receiving salary and expenses of $140,000 in 1983 and Coia acknowledged $146,000.Some of the Ontario unionists are risking their careers. If they are on staff, they can be fired. If they are ordinary members, they can be denied work in the union hiring halls. Still, a long simmering revolt is now surfacing.

Paying a per capita tax of $4.50 per member per month, the Ontario locals send more than $1.2 million a year to Washington. In return, the international pays the salary and expenses of Toronto based vice-president Ugo Rossini ($101,000 in 1983), a staff representative and a secretary.

The top union officials are reluctant to discuss their financial arrangements, but it appears the international spends about $250,000 to maintain its three person Toronto office and realizes a surplus of about $1 million a year on its Ontario Operations.

Ontario leaders of the union claim that in recent years the international union has been selectively harassing locals and officiers who don't play ball with Fosco, Coia and Rossini.

In the latest power play, Fosco has clamped a trusteeship on Local 506, a 4000 member union of construction laborers in Toronto. All local officiers and staff are now on notice of the dismissal, working at the pleasure of the international union.

The reason Rossini has offered for the intervention is that some members have been complaining about hiring hall irregularities. Ontario union insiders scoff at this explanation. They point out that if such a thing was serious concern, the Washington Officiers long since would have put Sarnia Local 1089 under trusteeship. They have not.

The Ontario Labor Relations Board last year found the Sarnia union guilty of a pattern of discrimination against dissident members in job dispatching from union hiring hall. Sarnia Business Manager Rocco D'Andrea has also been convicted in court of falsifing documentary evidence presented to the labor board. Still Fosco, Coia and Rossini have not seen fit to take control of the local.

A more likely purpose of the trusteeship over Local 506, insiders speculate, is to rescue business manager Mike Gargaro from possible defeat in an election that was to have been held in June. The election is now in limbo.

A day before the trusteeship was imposed treasurer Coia appeared in Toronto and conducted a "loyality test" meeting of the Local 506 staff, asking whether they intended to support Gargaro's bid for re-election. A number said no.

At a membership meeting of Local 506 last week about 250 laborers greeted Rossini and Joe Mazza of Chicago with undisguised hostility and chanted "We want an election".

Why would Washington want to squelch opposition to Gargaro?

A possible objective, some insiders suggest, is to prevent the Ontario Provincial Council of union from becoming a united body and demanding full regional status within the union. The Washington leaders seem to fear these developements as the prelude to a breakaway. The Ontario provincial council led by business manager John Stefanini performs or co-oridinates most union business, not conducted by the locals, such as province-wide collective bargaining.

The embattled Gargaro for years has fought what he calls Stefanini's empire-builing. He is a Fosco-Coia loyalist who in the past four years has helped collect an estimated $40,000 in "volunteer" payments from a resentful Local 506 staff. The money was sent to help the international officiers in a survival fight against the U.S. Justice Department. The Laborers International Union is a kind of hereditary union monarchy that has long been linked with organized crime in the United States.

Peter Fosco, Angelo's late father, became international president in 1968 after a 50 year union career in Chicago in which he was closely associated with members of the Al Capone Mob. Angelo became Chicago boss of union when his father moved up and then succeeded to the presidency in 1975.

In the family tradition Angelo's son, Peter Fosco II, became Laborers regional manager in Chicago, a position he resigned last year.

According to a U.S. Justice Department report citied in hardhitting 1980 article in Mother Jones, a San Francisco based magazine with several awards for investigative journalism, the Foscos have been linked over the years with known members of La Cosa Nostra.

In the late 1970's the U.S. justice department attempted to prove that both the Coia and Fosco families were involved in a fradulent union life insurance scheme. It alleged in 1981 that millions of dollars of union trust fund money had been directed as life insurance premiums to National Farmers Life and a complex network of crooked companies run by U.S. swindler Joe Hauser.

In return for the help of the union officiers in capturing this business, the justice department alleged that Hauser made kick-back payments through insurance agencies he set up for Arthur Coia Jr. and Peter Fosco II. The justice department alleged that the kickbacks were shared by the union officers and their respective organized crime patrons.

Angelo Fosco and Chicago crime boss Tony Accardo were acquitted in 1982 in a Florida court. Eight other men were convicted and recived sentences ranging from five to twenty years. The portion of the case directed against Peter Fosco II and three others has been delayed by defence challenges to the admissability of certain state evidence.

A similar prosecution against Arthur Coia Sr. and his son Arthur Coia Jr., Rhode Island crime boss Ray Patriarca and two others was recently dismissed because the alleged fraud occurred more than five years before the indictment was brought to court.

During the long U.S. legal battle some Ontario union members have been concerned about the integrity of the union's $100 million Central and Eastern Canada Pension Fund. Construction employers have refused to share responsiblity for administering the assets with five union trustees.

Chairman of the trustees is Arthur Coia Sr.. The others are Joe Mazza, who replaced Peter Fosco II last year, Rossini, Stefanini and Henry Mancinelli of Hamilton.

It is not clear how much of arumored $2.5 million in legal expenses for Coia and Fosco was raised by appeals to union officers, but Gargaro in Local 506 was the most effective fundraiser.

The use of a trusteeship to save a friend is a new wrinkle in the Fosco-Coia - Rossini battle for Ontario. In the past, insiders speculate, trusteeship may have been used to punish enemies.

For more than a year Washington has been trying to regain control of Local 1059 in London. The 1300 member London Local kicked out its Rossini supported business manager after finding him guilty of election fraud.

As a trustee, Rossini moved in and told the rebellious local officers they were fired. They defied him and carried on with business. The Supreme Court of Ontario found Rossini's sweeping intervention unjustified and refused his application for an injuction to enforce his will.

President Angelo Fosco is now threatening to abolish the London Local. It is possible the entire matter will get to the Ontario Court again soon. The London local last year took it's battle against the U.S. imposed trusteeship to Queen's Park. The legislators will soon be confronted with even more heat on the trusteeship issue as the Toronto and London situation ripen at the same time.

Return to

All original work Copyright 1998. All rights reserved.