Republicans To Probe Labor Unions
House Speaker Newt Gingrich says hearings
on labor corruption will focus on the Laborers' International
Union of North America, which is headed by Arthur A. Coia of Rhode
By JOHN E. MULLIGAN
WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Newt Gingrich
said yesterday that Republicans will convene investigative hearings
into labor corruption, centering on the case of the Laborers' International Union of North America, run
by Rhode Islander Arthur A. Coia.
Gingrich said the GOP decision to probe the
Laborers stemmed largely from the government's 212-page draft
racketeering suit against the union. He also cited the Journal-Bulletin's
accounts of how the union avoided a full-scale government takeover
last year and how Coia kept his job.
The Republican investigation follows the
AFL-CIO's special convention here in April to endorse President
Clinton for reelection and launch a $35 million voter-education
project fueled by members' dues.
That program has begun to target the congressional
districts of potentially vulnerable Republicans and is the core
of organized labor's drive to help Democrats seize back the House majority they lost in 1994.
Gingrich said in an interview after yesterday's
news conference that the hearings will focus "on the whole
question of how the Clinton administration deals with unions where
there are serious problems of corruption and organized crime."
He said the investigation will zero in on
the Justice Department's campaign to purge the Laborers of longstanding
Gingrich called yesterday's news conference
to unveil "worker right-to- know" legislation that would
require unions to make a more detailed public accounting of what
he called "coerced" political campaign spending.
Coia and his union, which was linked to the
Mafia by the 1986 report of the President's Commission on Organized
Crime, were the targets of the draft racketeering complaint in
November 1994. The Justice Department sought a court-supervised
takeover of the Laborers and the ouster of Coia and other leaders.
The document said the union was dominated
"at all levels" by organized crime. It also accused
Coia of conspiring with the Buffalo Mafia to pilfer union funds
from upstate New York locals, stealing from New England benefit
funds and tolerating mob influence.
After three months of hard-fought, secret
negotiations, Coia secured an agreement with the Justice Department
in February 1995 that permits the union to conduct its own in-house
purge of mob corruption.
Former federal prosecutors and FBI agents
are running the cleanup; Coia remains the union's top official.
The government has the right to take over the union if it is not
satisfied with the internal cleansing.
Since becoming union president, in 1993,
Coia has become a prominent backer of President Clinton and a
leading Democratic fund-raiser, a fact that has aroused Republican suspicion.
Last year, for example, the Laborers' $212,500
contribution made it number one among union contributors of "soft
money" to the Democratic Party, a form of campaign largess
that permits virtually unlimited contributions.
Justice Department spokesman Carl Stern has
suggested that politics are motivating the Republican investigation.
Stern said the Laborers-Justice agreement "is almost universally regarded as the most potent and potentially
effective cleanup effort undertaken by the Justice Department
since such efforts began under Robert Kennedy 30 years ago."
AFL-CIO president John J. Sweeney was quoted
by a spokesman as saying that "the Republicans have dredged
up an old laundry list as a sideshow to distract public attention from the attacks that Gingirch is leading
against working families."
Similarly, House Democratic Whip David Bonior,
D-Mich., several days ago said, "We are seeing a revitalized
union movement in this country" that has Gingrich and his
allies "in a panic because their extremist agenda is falling
Gingrich gave no timetable for hearings but
said they will be held by the crime subcommittee of the Judiciary
Committee, led by Rep. Bill McCollum, R- Fla. House Republican Conference Chairman John
A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said hearings are slated for this summer,
possibly late July.
Copyright © 1997 The Providence Journal Company.
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