Coia to face challenger from Chicago in union vote

Bruno Caruso, who has been linked to the Chicago Mafia by the government, will compete with Arthur A. Coia for the Laborers' presidency.

Journal-Bulletin Washington Bureau

LAS VEGAS -- A Chicago union leader with alleged Mafia ties won the right yesterday to challenge Laborers' union General President Arthur A. Coia this fall in the first rank-and-file election the corruption-tainted union has ever held.

"I am not opposed to reform. I am not opposed to change, innovation," declared Bruno Caruso, the son of an alleged mobster whose brother and cousin have been ousted by the union's anti-corruption unit.

"I am opposed to people controlling this union who are not elected," Caruso said, complaining of "fears and concerns of tapped phones," and questioning whether "my friend Arthur is the leader that he says he is."

Most of the 2,116 delegates in the hall were still as an ovation rose from an island of a few hundred delegates representing the Chicago area, traditionally the home of the Laborers most powerful leaders before Coia took the top job in 1993.

Caruso's platform targets - on grounds of excessive government control - the battery of former FBI agents and prosecutors that Coia placed in charge of an internal cleanup last year.That saved Coia his job and blocked a federal racketeering suit that portrayed him as an agent of mob control over the Laborers.

In his own acceptance speech to a hall of cheering delegates who have followed his lead all week, Coia stressed issues like training and education, hoisted his 23-month-old granddaughter as an emblem of his family values, and touched only indirectly on the government takeover that he has thus far averted.

"I have borne in some respects a heavy personal burden as your general president," said the 53-year-old Rhode Islander. "I have had to make agonizing decisions. I have taken the blows of criticism. I have sacrificed personally and professionally for only one reason: It was the right thing for this union."

Coia won 1,705 votes to Caruso's 325, confirming his status as heavy favorite to win a five-year term in the union's first election on the principles of a secret ballot and one-member, one-vote.

Caruso promised an all-out fight today to restore "due process" to union affairs with, among other proposals, a resolution requiring the in-house prosecution team to meet higher standards of evidence in its anticorruption cases.

Those proposals put the federal prosecutors here in the unaccustomed position of backing Coia unreservedly as he tries to stave off what Asst. U.S. Atty. Craig Oswald called Caruso's bid "to gut the reforms."

Caruso denied in an interview that he is an organized crime associate. "That's definitely unfair and very untrue," Caruso said. He was specifically asked about the passage in the government's draft racketeering suit against the union that held out the Caruso family as an example of how the mob uses nepotism to perpetuate its control.

The draft identified Caruso's father as a member of the Chicago Mafia, and his brother, Robert, the president of Local 1006, as an associate of the mob.

"My father has been deceased for 13 years," said Bruno Caruso, a stout man who punctuates his talk with the point of his forefinger. "Maybe in my younger days I wasn't too understanding of these things in life, but I just remember him as a loving father, who has given me my values.

Yesterday's procedings gave other hints that Coia's forces may have a long day today, defending his proposed pay raise - from $201,624 to $250,000 - a hike in members' dues and other contentious proposals before the convention closes.

On a morning when delegates were greeted by the strains of Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas" and "Return to Sender" - plus handshakes from a brace of 50 hired Elvis impersonators - there was some preliminary skirmishing over union spending priorities. (The King's lookalikes were the skydiving members of the Flying Elvi, immortalized in Wedding in Las Vegas several years ago.)

Dan Rusnak, business manager of a local of hod carriers, cement workers and miners in Reno, told the convention, "Next Monday, I have to go back and report to my members on what I did at this convention. I'll tell them about the parties we went to and the entertainment we had and the gifts we gave."

"I don't want to go back and tell them that I am taking away a benefit," said Rusnak, a Coia supporter. He referred to a $1,500-per-member death benefit that the leadership has proposed to eliminate to make up a shortfall in the convention fund.

Union leaders said the dues increase is needed to pay for the secret- ballot voting and other government-ordered election reforms being put to their first test at this convention.

Shambling back to obscurity without complaint yesterday was Bernard "Barney" Scanlon, 70, a Long Islander whose quixotic run at Coia netted him a chorus of boos and 39 votes - far less than the 5 percent required for a slot in the nationwide balloting for general president in November and December.

Reflecting on his challenge to Coia's forces, Scanlon said, "They weren't as tough as the guys in Local 66," meaning the Mafia-tied leaders of his local that subjected him and a few other resisters to threats and blackballing for years before the govenment intervened.

Copyright © 1997 The Providence Journal Company
Produced by www.projo.com

Return to Laborers.org

All original work Copyright Laborers.org 1998. All rights reserved.