No Resignation, Say Laborers

By Sherie Winston and William Krizan
10/11/99 issue

The future leadership of the laborers' union appears uncertain. Published reports say union President Arthur A. Coia may be getting ready to step down from the top post under a plea agreement with the federal government.

The reports, first published Sept. 30 in the Bureau of National Affair's Daily Labor Report, state Coia will resign by Oct. 15 and plead guilty to one felony count related to his 1991 purchase of a sports car from a union vendor.

The union denies the existence of any plea deal. "Mr. Coia has not resigned. He's not been indicted and there is no agreement," asserts David R. Roscow, a union spokesperson. "For the past four years, government officials have engaged in irresponsible leaks designed to pursue their own agenda and tarnish the union and Mr. Coia and undermine our reform efforts."

The laborers' union has operated under a consent decree negotiated with the Justice Dept. since February 1995. This pact, extended to run through Jan. 31, 2000, allows the union to craft internal reforms to rid it of organized crime influences. Under an internal disciplinary action earlier this year, Coia was cleared of most allegations that he violated the union's ethical practices code, including charges that he knowingly allowed organized crime influences into the union (ENR 3/15 p. 16). But an internal hearing officer found Coia guilty of violating the ethics code in relation to the purchase of a vintage Ferrari and fined Coia $100,000.

The Justice Dept. claims the right to file separate charges against Coia or the union at any time if government officials believe additional action is warranted. Government officials were disappointed with the results of the disciplinary action and released a statement at that time asserting that the findings included "serious factual and legal errors."

A union spokesman says Coia is expected to attend the annual AFL-CIO meeting that begins Oct. 11 in Los Angeles. But some industry sources say that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney may want the matter resolved before then so as not to sidetrack participants who will consider endorsing a presidential candidate. The situation "could change in 10 minutes or it could change in two weeks," says Roscow.

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