Providence Journal-Bulletin

Coia Steps Down As A Laborers' Leader

Federal panel once linked him to Mafia; son to succeed him in number two post


Journal-Bulletin Staff Writer

Feb. 14, 1989

Arthur E. Coia, a leader of the Laborers' International Union of North America whom a presidential commission in 1986 charged with having direct links to the Mafia, announced his retirement yesterday from his union post.

Coia, who once told a black candidate for the union's presidency that no one but Italians could ever take control of the union, will be succeeded as general secretary-treasurer by his son, Arthur A. Coia, 45, of Barrington. The post is the second highest in the union. The elder Coia, of North Providence, announced his retirement at the union's annual Executive Council meeting in Bal Harbour, Fla.

Both Coias were indicted in Miami in 1981 on federal racketeering charges in connection with an alleged conspiracy to skim money intended for union members' insurance benefits. The case was later dismissed because the indictment had been filed after the statute of limitations expired.

In a retirement letter to the union's president, Angelo Fosco, Coia, 75, wrote: "Never in my wildest dreams as a young laborer did I think that our union would develop to these levels of sophistication." The 650,000-member union, which includes about 8,000 members in Rhode Island, represents municipal workers, state workers, hospital employees and construction workers.

Coia, a Providence native, joined the union when he was 20, "with money my parents had to borrow," he said in his farewell letter. He was president of Local 271 in Providence, New England regional manager and international vice president before becoming general secretary- treasurer in 1979.

His son, who has been manager of the union's New England and Eastern Canada Region for the last two years, joined the union as a teenager. A 1967 graduate of Boston University Law School, he became business manager of the Rhode Island Laborers' District Council in 1968. He tripled the council's membership, to 10,000.

Coia called his father "a man of compassion who gave his heart to the Laborers for more than 55 years."

According to a 1986 report by the President's Commission on Organized Crime, the elder Coia used his Mafia links to keep control of the Laborers and used union money to protect himself and his son from federal prosecutors.

The report said the Laborers' Union was one of four international unions extensively controlled by organized crime.

The younger Coia, in a telephone interview with the Associated Press yesterday, said both he and his father were "unfairly characterized" in the report and had had no dealings with the mob.

"The mention of me and my father in that presidential commission report is really not a detailed and fair representation," he said. "The so- called link to organized crime does not exist."

The president's commission said that in March 1986 the elder Coia used his Mafia connections to prevent Robert Powell, a black, from running for the presidency of the union. Powell testified under oath that Coia told him that the "Italians" had organized the Laborers' union and that no one outside that group could ever take control.

Recently, father and son were recipients of the president's award from the National Italian American Foundation.

Copyright © 1989 The Providence Journal Company

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