Federal Labor Board Charges Union Sought To Keep Election Challenger From Job

By Dan Barry

September 1, 1986

The National Labor Relations Board has charged that the Hartford-area Laborers union local colluded with a construction firm to prevent a man challenging the union's hierarchy in an election from finding work.

In a formal complaint the NLRB also accused Laborers Local 230 of discriminating against a former East Hartford man because he was the son of another man running against the local's entrenched leadership, headed by business manager, Dominick Lopreato.

The charges against Local 230 were filed by Gary Wall, 40, an 18-year laborer who lost resoundingly in a bid this June to oust Lopreato as business manager, and by William Cooksey Jr., 25, the son of William Cooksey Sr., who ran and lost against the union's vice president, John Pezzenti.

Wall's charges, filed in May, also accused Hartford-based Development Consultants Inc., contractor for Hartford's twin-towered Northeast Plaza skyscraper project, of colluding with Lopreato and Pezzenti to have him laid off from the job.

In an eight-page complaint issued Aug. 29 the NLRB's Hartford office charged Local 230 with unfair labor practices in Wall's and Cooksey's cases, saying the local retaliated against the two men because they "criticized, opposed the re-election of, and campaigned against" its officers.

The federal board also accused Local 230 of "restraining and coercing" employees trying to exercise rights allowed under labor laws. It charged the contractor with discriminating against employees and encouraging membership in a particular union.

Nov. 17 hearing set

Development Consultants and Local 230's leadership, including Lopreato, Pezzenti and President Charles LeConche, will have a chance to respond to the charges at a Nov. 17 hearing before an NLRB administrative judge.

If the charges are upheld, Wall and Cooksey may be reinstated and paid lost wages. Also, copies of the decision may be hung in the union hall and at the job site.

John H. Sauter, deputy officer in charge of the NLRB's Hartford office, said today that the board was investigating other charges against Local 230.

Northeast Plaza project manager Joseph Anderson and other Development Consultants officials were in a meeting and unavailable for comment this morning, a secretary said.

Asked for comment today, Lopreato said in a brief telephone conversation that he was leaving town for a couple of weeks for a convention. Asked Whether other union officials were available, he said, "Nobody's here" and hung up.

The NLRB charges are the latest dovelopment in a dispute with Local 230. wall has charged that Lopreato and Pezzenti have intimidated laborers, continued a crude extortion practice and worked with the union's international vice president, Arthur E. Coia, whom federal investigators have linked to organized crime, to stymie any opposition.

But Lopreato has dismissed Wall's charges as the rantings of a malcontent. He has pointed to his overwhelming victory in the local's June elections, in which he and Pezzenti beat Wall and Cooksey by a 511-64 vote, as an indication of his support within the union.

Claims further pressure

In February, Wall has said, he was among about a dozen laborers laid off from the Northeast Plaza project, being built next to the Old State House. A week later everyone except Wall was rehired, he said.

"I went down to the job site a couple of times to get hired back, but then I figured it was fruitless," Wall, a Wethersfield resident, said.

The younger Cooksey, who worked briefly at the Northeast Plaza project, corroborated Wall's story in an NLRB affidavit.

He said that while working on the project's ground floor, he overheard Development Consultants general superintendent Richard Olsen ask a foreman on a two-way radio whether any of the laborers laid off from one tower could come to work on the other tower.

When a foreman answered that only Wall was left, Olsen made no reply and the radio shut off; then the foreman and Cooksey "looked at each other and laughed, Cooksey wrote adding, "It was common talk among the laborers on the project that there was no way Gary Wall was going to be allowed to return back to work because of his campaigning against Lopreato in the upcoming election."

Based in part on Cookesy and Wall's testimony, the NLRB charged that Development Consultants "failed and refused and has continued to fail and refuse to hire Wall for employment at the Northeast Plaza job site."

Wall's lawsuit pending

Wall is suing Lopreato and Pezzenti, alleging they told laborers in the months before the election that he had orchestrated a clubbing attack on Pezzenti in front of his Newington home last December.

In his suit Wall also alleges that Lopreato promised at a restaurant to "stab and kill" Wall's family.

He also has appealed the June election to the Laborers International union but so far has received no response.

The younger Cooksey said Tuesday he was laid off from the Northeast Plaza job by a subcontractor the day before his father announced he was challenging Pezzenti in an upcoming election. He said he was the only one laid off.

After that, Cooksey said, he was blackballed. Although a seven-year union member, he said he repeatedly was passed over for jobs at the local's hiring hall.

The NLRB charges Local 230 leaders with by passing Cooksey on two jobs, including state reconstruction of the Putnam Bridge in Glastonbury.

Cooksey said that in May the local's president, LeConche, announced he needed three laborers with cars to go to the bridge site. Cooksey said he and two other men stood up. The fourth and last man in the hall had no car, he said.

Cooksey said in his affidavit that LeConche told him he couldn't give him the job. When he reiterated that he was available, Cooksey said, "LeConche ignored me and proceeded to call back Pezzenti, telling him that he only had two men with cars for work."

Cooksey said Tuesday that he has been out of work for seven months, has spent his savings, has lost his apartment in East Hartford, and his fiancee is expecting a baby.

He said he attributes his unemployment to the politics in Local 230.

"Any other year I could say there's a reason for it," Cooksey said, "but this is the biggest year for construction. Every body and his brother is working."

"Is it killing me? Of course it is," Cooksey added. "I need the hours."

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