By MARK PAZNIOKAS;
and ANDREW JULIEN
Courant Staff Writers
A dissident union leader says that he was
attacked this week during a meeting of all 10 Connecticut business
agents of the Laborers' International Union of North America,
and that no one intervened until he defended himself.
His alleged attacker, however, says that
the incident was simply a matter of people speaking loudly.
Critics of the international union, which
has been threatened with a takeover by the U.S. Justice Department,
said the incident show that the intimidation of dissidents is
still accepted among the Laborers" hierarchy.
"The Laborers Union traditionally has
been an arena for horrible intimidation and physical violence
against critics," said Herman Benson, the founder of the
Association for union Democracy, an advocacy group in Brooklyn,
Ronald Nobili, 52, the business manager of
Local 665 of Bridgeport, said he was attacked by Shaun Cashman,
61, the manager of Loca1 611 of New Britain, during a meeting
Monday at the union's training center in Pomfret
Cashman abruptly challenged him to a fight
from across a large conference table, then slowly walked around
the table and threw a punch Nobili said/ When Nobili punched
back others broke up the men, he said.
Nobili said neither man was seriously injured,
but the incident was significant because Cashman attacked him
during a meeting run by Armand E. Sabitoni, an international vice
president and manager ,of the New England region.
"Not a word was said by the regional manager, Nobili said. "The intimidation was condoned as far as I was concerned."
Cashman, while declining to discuss the incident
in detail, described Nobili's comments as "inaccurate, irresponsible
"You can describe it as people speaking
loudly to each other," Cashman said. "other than that,
nothing happened." Sabitoni has been unavailable for comment
over the past several days.
W. Douglas Gow, who was named inspector general
of the union in one of a series of reforms intended to prevent
a government takeover, said Thursday he is aware of the incident
and will investigate.
Everybody has a right to exercise their democratic
rights at meetings," Gow said. "That's why I will look
at the meeting to see if there was a violation of our ethics policy"
The Justice Department is monitoring the union for ties to organized crime and for anti-democratic practices.
Nobili is a third-generation Laborers' business
manager and one of the few business managers to publicly challenge
Dominick Lopreato, the Laborers' statewide leader until his bribery
In November 1995, Nobili sued the union's
statewide organization, the Connecticut Laborers' District Council,
in federal court, alleging that it diverted dues from his local
to stifle dissent.
If Nobili wins his suit, it will cost the
other locals in the state money, which he said explains why none
of the nine other business managers tried to stop Cashman.
"I'm the skunk at the picnic, no doubt
about it" Nobili said. "The court case is sensitive..
I don't have a friend in that room."
Benson said the Laborers' international
leadership shows some signs of trying to promote democracy, but
the attack on Nobili was disturbing.
"He is a dedicated, honest and outspoken
union leader who has been trying to do a job in his area,"
Benson said. "This is a symbol of the whole thing, an honest
leader vs. those who have inherited the union from a crook."
The Incident is the second alleged assault
on a Laborers' dissident.
Stephen Manos, a vice president of Hartford's
Local 230 and a candidate for the presidency in next year's election,
said he was assaulted in July during a union meeting at Capriccio's
Restaurant in Hartford's South End.
Police declined to make an arrest, but Gow is also investigating that incident.
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"One significant point not mentioned in this article is that there was an Laborers' International representative at both assaults.." Steve Manos