'Why is a 70-year-old man running? A young man with a mortgage, car payments and children cannot afford to put his livelihood in jeopardy.'Barney Scanlon
By Kenneth C. Crowe
Barney Scanlon, a 70-year-old laborer
from Sayvill,was hauling 50-pound buckets of sealer around
a parking garage at the end of August when an election fluke gave
him the opportunity to run for the presidency of the 700,000-member
Laborers International Union of North America.
The odds are against the longtime union dissident
winning the threeway national election for the $203,000-a-year
job as Laborers general president. He has no money and no election
organization behind him.
But the union's first rankandfile
election of a president will give him a shot, albeit a long one,
at the top post. Delegates usually elect the top officers.
Scanlon contends that members should have
a chance to vote for a reform candidate unconnected to the sullied
history of the Laborers.
The other two contenders, incumbent Arthur
A. Coia, 53, and Bruno Caruso, 52, president of the 18,000-member
Chicago Laborers District Council, argue they are just as dedicated
to having the union free of corruption and mob control as Scanlon.
To run in the election, which will take place
in November or December, Scanlon, Caruso and Coia must win at
least 5 percent of the votes cast by the 2,400 delegates at next
week's Laborers Convention in Las Vegas.
The rank-and-file election is
part of a Justice Department effort to end the purported domination
of the Laborers by the Chicago mob.
Scanlon, who was an Army Air Corps gunner
in World War II and was a semipro football linebacker in the late
'40s and '50s, describes his chances of winning the presidency
of the huge international union as "one of those next-to-impossible
Then why is he running "Because no one
else will do it," he said. "Why is a 70-year-old
man running? Where are the young men? The answer is the intimidation
factor. If they run, they can be penalized [by being kept out
of work]. A young man with a mortgage, car payments and children
cannot afford to put his livelihood in jeopardy."
Scanlon can draw on his own history to illustrate
the risk of speaking out. He joined Local 66 in 1953, working
for two decades during the unprecedented building boom on Long
Island. During those years, he often rose to confront the union
leadership at meetings.
By 1973, when jobs became scarcer, Scanlon,
who had four children at home, claims he was being kept
out of work in retaliation. "They starved me out,"
Scanlon, who had studied law but failed
to get a degree, found a new, well-paying career preparing
cases for lawyers.
But at the urging of several rank-and-filers,
Scanlon became a laborer again in 1989 and rejoined Local 66 to
help with a budding reform movement.
In August, Scanlon won an election to become
one of Local 66's eight delegates to the Laborers Convention,
a prerequisite for running for international president. He admittedly
won that race only because the Laborers elections officer declared
three of Local 66's officers ineligible to run.
Scanlon says that 95 delegates so far have
pledged their support. He needs another 20 to 25 before he can
Herman Benson of the Brooklyn-based
Association for Union Democracy, a civil-rights advocacy
group, says that Scanlon's candidacy "is a great idea. It
gives the rank and file a chance to express a little independence.
The more votes he gets, the more officialdom will be inclined
to be sensitive to what the members want. "
Benson said, "Scanlon is to be admired.
It takes a hell of a lot of guts to announce your candidacy in
the Laborers. This is a rough union. It might sound corny, but
he is an unusual guy. He is out there fighting for a principal,
for decency, not to get himself somewhere."