Engineering News-Record


February 7, 2000

When Workers Deserve Better

On the other end of the spectrum of the union movement is the departure from the scene of another union leader. Arthur A. Coia stepped down as general president of the Laborers' International Union effective Jan. 1 (ENR 12/13/99, p. 13). To many, Coia represented a hope for a new unionism, where labor could act as management's partner, rather than as an opponent. He can rightly boast of establishing the position of laborer as an apprenticeable trade.

But in reality, Coia's tenure as Laborers' president and the circumstances of his ultimate departure is disheartening. The union and Coia have been under investigation by federal law enforcement agents probing corruption allegations, including accusations of organized crime control of the union itself.

The U.S. Justice Dept. several years ago prepared a widely circulated draft indictment against Coia listing a broad spectrum of allegations of corrupt activities, ranging from bribery and kickbacks, mob ties, self-dealing and the like that allegedly pervaded the entire union. None of these allegations ever got to the point where they had to be proven. Some say this proposed indictment was used by Justice as a lever to force Coia to clean house in the union. But if even a small percentage of the allegations were true, it would paint a sad betrayal of everything a union leader should stand for.

Now, Coia has pleaded guilty in criminal court to evading taxes on the purchase of not one, but three Ferraris (see p. 13), including one costing over $ 1 million. And his new title of president emeritus of the Laborers' union, a purely ceremonial post, will pay him $ 250,000 a year.

Arthur Coia said he wanted to be remembered as a man who helped to reorganize the union. Instead, he will be remembered as a tax dodger with a high-paying, cushy job who drove off into the sunset in $ 1-million Ferrari paid for by the dues of hardworking members of his union. It is an image typifying the worst stereotypes of organized labor. Laborers' union members, and the labor movement in general, deserve better.

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