By JOHN E. MULLIGAN
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
"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,
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
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
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
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
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
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