Contents copyright 1982 to 1995 by The Providence
THE PROVIDENCE SUNDAY JOURNAL
Sunday June 25, 1995
By MIKE STANTON
Journal-Bulletin Staff Writers
Cruz Gutierrez thought a new era had dawned
at the Laborers' International Union when he dialed Doug Gow's
Gutierrez is a San Francisco laborer who
has spent the last several years fighting union corruption. Gow
is a former FBI supervisor brought in by Laborers' president Arthur
A. Coia to clean up the union and avert a federal takeover.
As the union's new inspector general, Gow
has tried to ease the historic reluctance of laborers to report
corruption. He installed a toll-free hotline and encouraged union
members to tell him about wrongdoing; he also promised confidentiality.
"If you want people to cooperate with
you and come forward, you've got to be able to maintain a degree
of confidentiality and privacy," he says.
That's what Gutierrez believed when he saw
Gow's ad in a recent union magazine.
Gutierrez, a 52-year-old construction foreman
in San Francisco Local 261, complained that he has had trouble
getting work in the last few years because he is part of a dissident
faction within his local. He says he has fought to have union
jobs assigned fairly, but that local and even national union executives
have ignored his complaints.
But the next person he heard from after he
complained to Gow was an aide to a union executive who had ignored
his pleas in the past. The aide called him at home, read his Social
Security number, and asked for details of his complaint. Gutierrez
Later that week, Gutierrez says, he was denounced
at a union meeting. One of the local leaders even boasted that
he had been in the aide's office when Gutierrez was called.
A furious Gutierrez contacted Gow again:
"I want to thank you for jeopardizing the lives of my family
and myself," he wrote. "Now whenever I go out on a job,
I will have to look over my shoulder and hope no one arranges
an 'accident' for me."
* * *
'Gow cannot be trusted!'
Gow acknowledges the mistake, and vows it
won't happen again. He says it has been blown out of proportion,
and that he has received an overwhelmingly favorable response
from union members eager to report wrongdoing.
But the incident illustrates the obstacles
that Gow faces in policing a 770,000-member union that prosecutors
say has a long history of corruption.
"If the so-called inspector general
exposes independent-minded laborers to retaliation from the officials,
he will subvert the whole reform effort," says Herman Benson
of the watchdog group, Association for Union Democracy.
A northern California union reform group
is circulating a flier Urging members to bypass Gow and report
complaints directly to federal prosecutors.
"Gow cannot be trusted!" the flier
Hard Hat Construction Magazine, an independent
publication, says it cannot recommend that union workers call
Gow with complaints, "since to do so might put one's job,
or even life, in danger."
Says Gutierrez, who now refuses to cooperate
with the inspector general: "I had heard that Gow was appointed
and paid by the International, but that he was responsible to
the government. But now it looks like the same b.s."
* * *
Gow, a 30-year veteran of the FBI and former
head of investigations, was hired by Coia under a two-year contract;
he declines to say for how much.
Gow confers regularly with Coia and also
gives progress reports to the union's executive board. But he
says he doesn't discuss his investigations with union leaders,
or take orders from them about what - or whom - to investigate.
"I'm not running up to Mr. Coia, saying
so-and-so called. That just does not occur," he says. "If
I do not see a good faith on the part of union officials, or anything
that is trying to undermine (the investigation), then that's when
I'll fold my tent."
Gow calls the Gutierrez situation "an
unfortunate episode," a mistake that occurred in the confusion
of starting the inspector general's office and handling "more
"We just wanted to round out the individual's
complaint," he says. "We asked the international to
get the basic facts."
Gow bristles at the suggestion that he can't
be trusted. He says he has hired 33 investigators, most of them
respected former FBI investigators with expertise in organized
crime and labor racketeering, and that they are pursuing 143 cases
around the country.
"I think it caused some question, but
by the numbers of calls we get and investigations we're doing,
it has not hurt," he says. "The people I've got working
for me, I'd put up against any FBI squad that exists today. .
go where the facts are."
It's unclear, however, whether Gow is investigating
In April, Gow said he was not investigating
the union president.
Last week, Gow declined comment on whether
he has opened a file on Coia, saying it is his policy not to confirm
or deny investigations.