Bitter dispute erupts over top union post

By Jesse Emspak - Journal Inquirer

A union that represents mostly seasonal laborers in north-central Connecticut is going through a bitter leadership dispute, with a challenger for the top job filing an attempted-assault complaint against the incumbent.

The battle is for leadership of Hartford based Local 230 of the Laborers International Union, which has about 900 members, including those working on the renovation of the Homer Babbidge Library the University of Connecticut's Storrs campus.

Steven Manos, currently vice-president of the local, is seeking to wrest the top Job- business manager - from Charles LeConche.

Some union members say the conflict between Manos and LeConche is a personal one that spilled over into union politics.

Manos, who was elected vice-president in 1995, claims that LeConche attempted to assault him on July 30 at the Capriccio Ristorante in Hartford He has also written a letter dated Aug. 17 to the union's inspector general, W. Douglas Gow, calling LeConche a "petty tyrant" and "out of control."

In a Hartford police report. on Manos' complaint, the name of the person being accused is crossed out. Police said they did that because no arrest warrant has been. issued. They added that they,re still investigating the matter

Manos, in several recent interviews, said LeConche threatened him and had to be held back from assaulting him by other union officers. He also said he was "bodyslammed" by the union 's sergeant at arms, Frank Freeman. Manos said he suffered bruises and sprains.

Neither LeConche nor Freeman would comment for this story. Three others at the meeting, Secretary-Treasurer John Pezzenti and Executive Board members James Lawson and Wayne Silva, also refused to comment on the incident.

The union's travails go back to 1994. when criminal charges were brought against Dominick LoPreato, who was business manager of the local as well as secretary treasurer of the Connecticut Laborers District Council.

At that time. LoPreato was charged with taking $$345,000 in bribes, after he arranged an $8 million investment in the now-defunct Colonial Realty Co. The money came from the union's pension fund. In 1995 LoPreato was found guilty and sentenced to four years and three months in federal prison.

LeConche, who ran for business manager without opposition, was elected in June 1995 after LoPreato had to resign his post.

Manos, pointing to forms detailing the local's spending and reimbursements is complaining about LeConche drawing two salaries.

According to those forms, LeConche draws an annual combined salary of $159,392. One salary, of $127.392 comes from the Laborer's District Council. The other $32,000 comes from Local 230.

LeConche is listed as the secretary-treasurer of the District council in addition to being the business manager of the local.

But Manos said he is more unhappy with what be regards as violations of work rules at the library job, and LeConche's behavior toward the owner of a contractor for the job, Capital Concrete. In particular, he points to a June incident in which the union steward for the job, Manny Lambert, was fired.

Manos said LeConche called Capital Concrete's owner, Tony Luiz, and pressured him to return Lambert to work. The job site was picketed for two days. Manos said the picket was illegal because it had nothing to do with a wage or benefits issue. As a result, he crossed the line.

"I wanted no part in an illegal activity, Manos said. "That was an illegal picket line." He added that picket lines, according to the contract, can only be called when there is a wage or benefit issue.

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