By John Deverell
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.