Collusion Hearing Ends Amid Contradictions

By Dan Barry
Journal Staff Writer

March 5, 1987

Hartford--Shouts, contradicting testimony and the playing of secretly made recordings marked a week-long National Labor Relations Board hearing on charges that officials of the Laborers union in Hartford area colluded with a construction firm to keep a union dissident from finding work.

The hearing, which ended Wednesday, also aired allegations that officials of Laborers Local 230 refused to refer certain members to job sites because of their opposition to the union's hierarchy.

NLRB hearing officer Wallace H. Nations, who is expected to issue a decision after receiving briefs from the concerned parties, occasionally had to mediate between loud arguments about the use of concealed tape recordings made by Gary R. Wall, a complainant who lost overwhelmingly last June in a bid to replace Dominick Lopreato as Local 230's business manager.

"It was a tremendous surprise to me." Nations said of the tapes during a break in testimony last week. He added that several times he left both sides alone to listen to the tapes, identify the speakers and decide whether to use the recordings as evidence.

But he added he was available to "referee" disputes-of which there were several.

John H. Sauter, deputy officer in charge of NLRB's Hartford off, said Wednesday that if Nations rules against the union and Development Consultants Inc., they could be ordered to reinstate the complainants and give them back pay. Also, a notice of the occasion may have to be hung at the union hall and at the job site.

Shyscraper contractor implicated

Lopreato and other union officials testified they feared for their physical safety because of Wall.

But one of the complainants, William Cooksey Jr. of Ellington, testified at one point that two union leaders once took him for a ride, then left him stranded several miles from his car.

The NLRB hearing is just one aspect of a bitter feud between Lopreato, a longtime union leader, and Wall, a laborer for 18 years who has charged the business manager's administration of Local 230 is corrupt. The dispute has divided the union. When a supporter of one side testified, others sat in the audience muttering they were lying.

Wall also has filed a slander suit against Lopreato and John Pezzenti, the local's vice president, and has lodged an appeal to the union's national leadership regarding last June's election.

The NLRB has charged that Lopreato and Development Consultants Inc., the construction firm building the Northeast Plaza skyscraper project in Hartford, colluded to keep Wall from working while Wall was campaigning for the union's June election

Wall had worked as a steward at Northeast Plaza since late 1983. In February 1986, after Wall made it known he was heading a slate challenging Lopreato, he and about a dozen other laborers were laid off. A week later everyone except Wall was rehired, according to the complaint.

DCI project manager Joseph Anderson testified the layoff was because work-slow down for the winter, adding that his own son, a carpenter, was among those laid off. He also said he thought Wall had been "featherbedding," or not working while on the job.

But Wall and others testified that union stewards are not supposed to do manual labor. And when asked why he hadn't sought to replace Wall earlier, Anderson replied, "Chances are you'd get someone worse."

Anderson testified he feared for his physical safety after the layoff because he received what he felt was a threatening letter from Wall's lawyer, David E. Kamins. Pressed what he felt was threatening, Anderson said Kamins' letter said he would take "whatever action is necessary."

Anderson and Lopreato denied the layoff had been orchestrated in part to keep Wall off the job.

Tape recordings disclosed

But Wall revealed he had 10 tape recordings he had made by concealing a recorder under his jacket at the job, in a bar and at union meetings.

Although much of the conversations were irrelevant to the charges--and more pertinent to a civil suit and inner labor actions filed by Wall--Nations did admit the recording of a discussion between Wall and two DCI officials in a bar on Pratt Street in Hartford the day of the layoff.

Wall testified he had heard the union might try to get him blacklisted, so he had begun carrying a concealed recorder.

On the tape recording one DCI official is heard saying Wall ran a clean job - apparently contradicting previous testimony he was a bad worker. Wall also claimed the company officials' comments obliquely acknowledged Lopreato's influence in the layoff.

Cooksey, whose father was Wall's running mate last June, and James DiPietro, a former East Hartford policeman who worked as a laborer at Northeast Plaza, testified it was common knowledge the the layoff was directed at Wall.

William Cooksey Sr., of Wethersfield, also testified he had been blackballed because of his association with Wall. After a meeting in which he told Lopreato of his election plans. Cooksey said a colleague warned him his family would suffer as a consequence.

"You'll work in Putnam," Cooksey claimed the colleague told him. He added that to a laborer, working in that eastern Connecticut town is analogous to "Siberia."

Another complainant, Joseph DiLorato of Windsor, testified Lopreato ordered him not to sit near Wall during union meetings before the election.

Worker plucked from job site

But ill feelings between the union administration and the Wall faction seem to have arisen years before the 1986 elections.

For example, William Cooksey Jr. testified he left the union in 1983 to become an ironworker, then returned several months later. Although he wasn't a union member in full standing, Cooksey said, Pezzenti told him he could pay his fees with his first paycheck. Pezzenti then sent him to a Farmington job site.

Cooksey added that later that morning Pezzenti and Local 230's president, Charles LeConche, appeared at the job site in a Cadillac and ordered Cooksey, then 22 to get in the back of the car.

After telling him he didn't belong on the job, they drove him in silence to the union's Hartford office, more than 8 miles away, and left him there, he said, even though his was at the job site.

Cooksey later said he heard his treatment stemmed from a dispute his father was having with other union officials. "It scared the hell out of me," he said Wednesday.

Also, LeConche testified that Wall once beat him up at a Franklin Avenue filling station in Hartford. Wall said Wednesday he punched LeConche after an argument because he thought the union official was getting a weapon out of his car's back seat.

He added that LeConche never pressed charges.

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