The Toronto Star

'No Democracy' In Laborers' Union, Hearing Is Told

Tom Spears and John Deverell

February 5, 1986

A top official of the Laborers International Union says there is no democracy in his organization and that's just fine with him, according to testimony at the Ontario Labor Relations Board.

The remarks were made by Arthur Coia, the Washington-based international secretary of the union, just before he seized control of the Toronto union last March, according to Nick Barbieri, a member of Laborers Local 506 in Toronto.

"Unions aren't democratic; unions are run by fists, by a dictator," Coia allegedly told Barbieri and a group of Local 506 business agents. The Toronto men were planning to campaign in the local union's election to defeat Coia's principal Ontario ally.

Barbieri told the labor board that 4,000 Metro laborers lost their right to elections last June solely because a majority of the local executive wanted to defeat Mike Gargaro, the incumbent business manager of the union.

Barbieri, business agent Carmen Principato, and dispatcher Manuel Silva were all fired after the international union took control of the local, representing workers in industrial, commercial and institutional sectors of the Metro construction industry. Five former executive members of the union, including Barbieri and Principato, are asking the labor board to end the trusteeship and reschedule the elections immediately.

Barbieri testified he and the other business agents of Local 506 announced last February that they wouldn't support Gargaro in his bid for re-election as business manager.

That's when first Gargaro and then his mentor, Coia, threatened to put the entire local under supervision indefinitely if the business agents didn't fall into line, Barbieri testified.

The Laborers Union is one of four unions in the United States recently named by the President's Commission on Organized Crime as being under the control or influence of organized criminals.

Barbieri said that when Gargaro realized he was in danger of defeat, he "flatly stated that the international would put the local under trusteeship, fire everybody and rehire him to run the local."

If we would support Mr. Gargaro for re-election, our jobs would be saved," Barbieri testified.

The following day, Feb. 28, Coia put the local under his own control.