Long Shot Takes Aim At Laborers Presidency

'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 things."

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," he said.

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 be nominated.

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."

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