Providence Journal-Bulletin

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 Island


Journal-Bulletin Washington Bureau

June 6, 1996

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 Mafia influence. "The public has the right to know why (Coia) is still in charge of the union," which prosecutors had earlier "claimed that he was running on behalf of organized crime," Gingrich said.

The Providence-born Coia, general president of the 750,000-member organization of construction laborers, waste haulers and municipal workers, has denied any wrongdoing.

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. "I think this has been, frankly, brought to the forefront by the decision by the Washington union bosses to impose a $35 million program on their membership," he said.

But Gingrich devoted most of his remarks to the topic of corruption and the Laborers.

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.

Earlier this month, Coia himself was a vice chairman of a black-tie gala in Washington that raised more than $12 million for the party and featured Mr. Clinton as its dinner speaker. 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 flat."

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.

Bert Rohrer, a spokesman for the Laborers, said last week that House labor corruption "hearings would be perhaps the biggest waste of time and money to date."

Copyright © 1996 The Providence Journal Company

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