Union dissident fights on despite many hard knocks

Gary Wall lost more than mere election


Journal Inquirer staff Writer
Wednesday, October 12, 1988

"This is like 'On the Waterfront.' It's that backwards"

Gary R. Wall, a longtime member of a local labor union, said this week.

Wall, a blunt, hard-nosed veteran of many construction jobs, was referring both to the 1950s film about about labor corruption and to his own union Laborers Local 230, whose leadership he also contends is corrupt.

"It's so backward," said Wall, a 42-year-old Wethersfield resident. "You can't question anything. You can't speak out. You can't talk."

The union, which one member estimated has 1,400 members, includes workers who have worked on construction jobs in downtown Hartford.

Aided by the wave of downtown commercial development and a healthy economy, the union has provided steady work to some of its members, Wall said.

But for Wall, who has worked as a laborer since his teens, these have been difficult times.

He ran on an unsuccessful slate that challenged the union's leadership in a June 1986 election - a move that he maintains cost him and his allies dearly.

Wall says the union has blackballed him and, as a result of union pressure, that he hasn't worked for more than a year. His wife, a real estate agent, has supported him and their two children.

"It's like a roller coaster. Most of the time you're going down," he said of his travails.

Despite his difficulties, Wall scored a key victory this summer. The laborer had filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the union and a construction firm of keeping him and others out of work.

In late July an administrative law judge, Wallace H. Nations, sided with Wall and three of his allies. Nations ruled that the Hartford-based union engaged in unfair labor practices when it refused to refer work to the four men.

The union's leadership is appealing the decision, according to an NLRB spokesman.

Wall's most recent scrape with the leadership occurred on Sept. 28, partly because of the NLRB ruling, he said. Wall says he was removed from a union meeting and arrested after he tried to raise several questions about the organization's leadership, including its appeal of the NLRB ruling, he said.

"I was going to bring up that they're appealing this case, that it's not benefiting the union, that they're already spent $200,000 on it," Wall said.

Charged with breach of peace, Wall was scheduled to appear today in Hartford Superior Court, according to a court clerk and police. Wall said he plans to plead not guilty.

At the meeting, Wall said Robert Cheverle, a lawyer who defended the union in the NLBR complaint, accused him of telling "the big lie at the NLRB."

Cheverie also called the judge a "moron," Wall said. Dominick Lopreato, the union's longtime business manager whom Wall opposed in the 1986 union election, also criticized the ruling, he added.

Wall said he tried to rebut the remarks of Lopreato and Cheverie. "I said that this man (Cheverie) accused me of being a liar. This case was won on credibility, not because they believed the big lie, and on evidence presented to the judge."

Wall said he also called Cheverie a "thief and a liar."

At that point, the laborer said, Union President Charles LeConche ordered him out of the hall. "Eight or 10 people moved toward me, and I told them not to put their hands on me," Wall said.

Neither LeConche nor Lopreato could be reached for comment.

Police were summoned to the hall, leading to Wall's arrest.

Wall's account of the incident differs somewhat from the police report. The laborer said he never fought with anybody during the incident and asked police to file a report reflecting that he'd been removed from the hall "for reasons to do with the union."

"They said if we file a report, we'll arrest you," Wall said.

The police report of the incident said Lopreato and LeConche said Wall "was creating a disturbance." After refusing to leave the hall, the report added, Wall was placed under arrest.

Wall remains undaunted. He plans to run another slate against the union leadership next year.

One of his staunchest supporters, William Cooksey Jr. of East Hartford, says the internal union strife has taken a toll on him, too.

A veteran laborer who recently returned to work, Cooksey, 46, said the union kept him away from many jobs over the past few years.

"I'm devastated moneywise," Cooksey said. "I lost my wife. I have no car. I'm totally starting over in life now."

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