THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL-BULLETIN
Friday October 6, 1995
By DEAN STARKMAN
Journal-Bulletin Staff Writer
Two national labor leaders, sounding familiar themes of a union
movement on the defensive, last night denounced congressional
Republicans for what they described as an "unprecedented"
attack on working Americans and said organized labor has to be
more media-wise and politically saw y to meet the threat.
The Rhode Island appearance of AFL-CIO president Thomas R. Donahue
and Arthur A. Coia, general president of the Laborers' International
Union of North America, comes three weeks before the first-ever
contested election for the top job in the 13 million-member AFL-CIO.
Donahue is running to keep the post he took over two months ago,
and he is trailing. Coia is supporting Donahue's opponent. The
contest will be decided at the AFL-CIO national convention in
New York, starting Oct. 23.
Donahue, addressing several hundred delegates to the Rhode Island
AFL-CIO constitutional convention at the Westin Hotel, said the
labor movement is losing the public-relations battle.
"This is a highly moral institution," Donahue said.
"But we haven't done the job of convincing the nation that
There are few substantive differences between the two sides of
the national struggle. Both agree that organized labor must grow
by organizing workers in traditionally nonunion industries, and
must adopt a more aggressive public posture.
The fight started earlier this year, when a group of dissident
AFL-CIO board members, Coia among them, mounted an unusual public
challenge to the federation's longtime president, Lane Kirkland,
calling his leadership too complacent in the face of a decades-long
drop in union membership and influence.
Coia said he and others originally asked Donahue to take on Kirkland.
Donahue declined, then took over as president in August, when
Kirkland retired. By then, the dissidents had turned to John Sweeney,
president of the Service Employees International, and are now
committed to him, Coia said.
"It was a matter of who came first in a time of needed change,"
Coia's active role in the national union struggle came shortly
after he diverted troubles in his own union.
In November 1994, federal prosecutors, citing systemic corruption
and organized-crime domination, threatened to file a racketeering
suit against the Laborers, and demanded that Coia step aside.
After three months of closed-door negotiations, Coia and the Justice
Department signed an unusual agreement that left Coia in charge
of a union anticorruption campaign.
The new AFL-CIO leader will be elected by member unions, alloted
delegates according to size. Sweeney claimed in a statement yesterday
that 58 percent of the delegates had committed to him. Donahue
last night put Sweeney's support at about 53 percent and said
the election was still up for
Donahue told the delegates that the Republican-run Congress has
threatened or moved against nearly every pillar of pro-labor and
socialservice legislation. He said, for example, that proposed
cuts to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would
increase workplace injuries by 50,000 a year.
"I don't know a single person in the nation who voted for
that," Donahue said.
To meet the threat, Donahue said, he has doubled the federation's
organizing staff, plans to double it again, and has set aside
$5 million for organizing, a figure he said will rise to $20 million
in three years.
Coia, a Providence native, told the delegates that union leaders
must excite their members and lead "by example and not by
He said leaders must follow the example of union founders, including
that of his father, the late Laborers executive Arthur E. Coia,
and do what is "good, right and, above all, moral."
Contents copyright 1982 to 19g5 by The Providence Journal Co.