By JOHN E. MULLIGAN
Journal-Bulletin Washington Bureau
May 5, 1998
-- A Hartford construction worker told a congressional panel yesterday
that he was assaulted during a union meeting last summer after
raising questions about expenditures by his Laborers' union local.
Testifying as one of several witnesses to
alleged abuses of union democracy around the country, Laborers
Local 230 Vice President Steve Manos said his forcible ejection
from the meeting last July 30 was one of a series of reprisals
for his decision to challenge an entrenched incumbent for higher
Manos said the episode shows that the 750,000-member
union's three-year, government-supervised effort
to purge itself of organized crime is ``a total sham'' -- a
claim vigorously disputed by the Laborers' chief lawyer and by
the former federal prosecutor who is running the union's internal cleanup.
``I absolutely disagree,'' with Manos's conclusion,
the in-house prosecutor, Robert D. Luskin, said in an interview
after the hearing. He cited steps his office has taken to partially
corroborate Manos's charge and protect Manos's right to attend
union sessions unimpeded.
But Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., declared
after Manos's testimony, ``the Mafia calls the shots'' in the
That was a reference to charges that Laborers
General President Arthur A. Coia has taken kickbacks
from a union vendor and permitted the mob to wield influence
in the 750,000-member union of hod-carriers, food-processors,
hazardous-waste handlers and municipal workers.
Coincidentally, Luskin's prosecution of those
charges against Coia, 55, of Barrington, is being wrapped up in
a secret union proceding elsewhere in Washington this week. Coia
is expected to mount his defense against the internal charges
when that union tribunal reopens in June.
Counsel Michael S. Bearse, also testifying under oath at yesterday's congressional hearing,
strongly defended the union's cleanup effort and suggested possible
political motivations behind Manos's charges.
Specifically, Bearse alluded to the fact
that corrupt Laborers' bosses in New York and Chicago have been
ousted and their fiefdoms placed under independent trusteeships.
Bearse also noted that the cleanup effort
-- launched by Coia in 1995 to block a federal racketeering suit
against the union -- also produced election reforms. Those included
Coia's 1996 reelection in the Laborers' first-ever direct ballot
by the rank and file.
In his testimony, Bearse made no mention
of the fact that the Laborers accepted the direct-ballot reform
only after the Justice Department threatened to use its power
to seize control of the union. Bearse also omitted
mention of sharp criticism by the Laborers' election monitor for
what he called a failure to bring election reforms to the local
In an interview after the hearing, Bearse
explained that union negotiators had not understood how strongly
the Justice Department would insist on the one-member,
one-vote reform. He said the election monitor may not be familiar
with how local elections work.
was the dramatic highlight in the kick-off hearing of a House
panel's inquiry into what it called ``impediments to union democracy'' and the
possible need for changes in a 1959 law meant to ensure union
Armed with a transcript of his tape-recording
of the incident and a hospital report of the minor injuries
he suffered, Manos described how Charles LeConche, business manager
of Local 230, verbally attacked him during the union meeting at
Capriccio restaurant in Hartford last summer, after Manos raised
questions about expenditures by the union.
Then, Manos testified, ``I was phsyically
attacked, thrown to the concrete floor and then thrown bodily
out of the fire-exit door'' by the local's sergeant-at-arms, as
the rest of the union's local leadership looked on.
Bearse noted later that LeConche and the
other union officials mentioned by Manos have challenged his version
of the events and countercharged that Manos had conducted himself
Luskin said there is ``no dispute'' that
Manos was physically thrown out of the meeting and confirmed that
he had ``admonished'' the local union leaders against such actions.
But Luskin also noted -- while declining
to disclose details of his investigation -- that he did not bring
internal charges against LeConche or the other officials.
``Steve thinks that I have not done enough''
to protect his rights, while ``Mr. LeConche thinks that I have
done too much'' in criticizing the local officials'
conduct, Luskin said.
Manos alluded in his testimony to allegations
by other dissident Connecticut Laborers that they
have been punished for criticizing or opposing the policies
of state union leaders, some of whom are closely aligned with
Ronald B. Nobili, business manager of Bridgeport
Local 665, charges in a civil suit against the Laborers' statewide
organization that he and his rank-and-file have been punished
for nearly two decades for his refusal to contribute $5,000 to
a fund for Coia's defense against federal kickback charges in
the late 1970s. (That case against Coia, his late father and the
late New England mob boss, Raymond L.S. Patriarca, was thrown
out when a judge ruled that the statute of limitations had expired.)
Among those named in Nobili's suit are LeConche;
and Dominick LoPreato, a close Coia friend and LeConche's predecessor
as business manager of Manos's local. LoPreato is serving a federal
prison term for taking $350,000 in bribes.
The Laborers have denied any wrongdoing in
their response to the suit.
Ballenger, the North Carolina Republican,
was blunt in his closing statement to the witnesses and their
colorful array of supporters.
``As far as I can see, y'all are getting the shaft and it isn't management that's doing it to you,'' said Ballenger.