The Toronto Star

15 Business Agents Fired By Laborers Union Boss

Some testified against chief in court case

Jack Lakey Toronto Star

August 2, 1996

Fifteen business agents at a powerful Metro union have been fired by its newly elected boss.

The firings came within weeks of Tony Dionisio's election as business manager - the top job at Local 183 of the Laborers International Union.

The fired agents had opposed Dionisio in the recent election and some had co-operated with investigations into the local's finances that resulted in criminal charges.

Dionisio was charged in 1995 with offering a secret commission and defrauding the government after Star articles that showed how Eric Ferguson, a federal bureaucrat who recommended $1.6 million in grants for Local 183's training centre, had his house renovated by union employees.

Ferguson was later charged with accepting a secret commission and pleaded guilty, but Dionisio and another union employee were acquitted last June.

Judge Charles Vallaincourt was highly critical of the way the case was presented.

Dionisio was reached at his office yesterday, but refused to comment on the dismissals.

Three other union employees, including the assistant director of Local 183's training centre, who also testified against Dionisio in court, were also fired.

Some of the business agents, who deal with employers on behalf of union members and organize new bargaining units, say that Dionisio is now getting even with them for offering an alternative to his leadership, or for crossing him.

"We were fired because we stood up to Dionisio," said Tony Candiano, a Local 183 business agent for the past eight years. "Nobody said a word about our work. There was no problem with that."

"We were all called in, one at a time, to Dionisio's office, and he told us that we would not be re-appointed. He didn't give us a reason. He said he didn't have to."

Candiano said he had often been warned he would be dismissed if Dionisio became business manager.

"I expected it to happen," said Tony Rodrigues, a Local 183 business agent for 11 years who ran against Dionisio for the business manager's job.

Some men had been with Local 183 for more than 20 years and are in their 40s and 50s, Rodrigues said, adding that several were dismissed shortly before they would have been eligible for pension benefits.

"A lot of us have given the union and the members many years of good service," Rodrigues said.

"You don't just get rid of good people like that.

"We tried to fight him and clean up the union, and now we are paying."