Friday February 19, 1993
By NORA LOCKWOOD TOOHER
Journal-Bulletin Staff Writer
Arthur A. Coia wants to put past controversies
behind him and look to the future as he takes the helm of the
400,000-member Laborers' International Union of North America.
Coia, 49, was elected general president last
week, succeeding Angelo Fosco, who died after a 17-year reign.
In an interview at the union's Rhode Island
headquarters, which is a South Main Street building named for
his father, Coia said he was "frustrated" by recurring
media questions about events connecting him with the late New
England crime boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca, and, more recently,
Joseph Mollicone Jr.
Coia said he wants to emphasize his achievements
over the past three years as the Laborers' general secretary,
including efforts to promote job training and develop new job
opportunities for union members.
Instead, recent publicity about Coia has
focused on a passbook in the vault of Heritage Loan & Investment
Co. that bore the name "Arthur Coia," among others.
Mollicone's alleged embezzlement at Heritage has been blamed for
triggering the Rhode Island credit union crisis.
The passbook account, which appeared to have
once contained more than $400,000, was established by the North
American Laborers' Defense League and did not bear interest. Mollicone
allegedly emptied it.
"I don't have any idea why the passbook
had my name on it," Coia said. He said the account was established
about 11 years ago to provide financial help to union members
who need legal assistance. It is not a union-designated fund,
however, Coia said, although he and others involved with the union
contributed to the fund. He said he was not one of the trustees
who oversaw the fund.
Coia said that Mollicone put a piece of white
adhesive on the passbook and typed the name Coia on it.
"For some reason or other, Mr. Mollicone
obviously put my name on this transaction," Coia said, speculating
that it may have been because of Coia's position with the Laborers'
union. "It's not a mysterious account at all."
He said he does not know why it was a non-interest-bearing
An earlier controversy dates to 1981 when
Coia and his father, Arthur E. Coia, were charged in a federal
racketeering case involving an alleged $2 million union kickback
scheme. New England organized crime boss Patriarca was also a
defendant in the case, which was dismissed because the indictment
was filed after the statute of limitations expired.
Coia said there were "significant facts"
that were never reported in the 1981 case, including the unreliability
of the main government witness, Joseph Hauser. Prosecutors based
most of their case on Hauser's testimony.
Referring to Hauser, a convicted felon, as
a "total liar," Coia said: "The whole thing was
full of baloney."
With about 406,000 members in the United
States and Canada, the Laborers' union - which includes construction,
municipal, hospital and nuclear waste removal workers - was ranked
the nation's 12th largest as of 1991, the most recent year for
which figures are available, according to the AFL-CIO.
Coia said, however, that he thinks current
membership is up to about 600,000.
He was elected last week to serve the remainder
of Fosco's term until 1996.
Coia said his annual salary of about $180,000
as general president of the union in the United States and Canada
is "probably less than corporate officials that serve in
a similar role, but more than probably a worker that works in
Coia joined the Laborers' while a teenager
and worked in construction jobs while he attended college and
law school. His first post with the Laborers' was as business
manager. He later became regional manager of the New England and
eastern Canada district.
In 1989, Coia succeeded his father as general-secretary
of the Laborers' union, the union's number two position, while
maintaining a dual post as regional director. The union has about
50,000 members in New England, including about 10,000 in Rhode
Coia was instrumental in steering the union's
organizing efforts into nonconstruction areas, such as municipalities
and hospitals. In Rhode Island, key memberships include non-uninformed
City of Providence workers, and employees at the Veterans Administration
Medical Center and Zambarano Memorial Hospital.
The Laborers' union supported the election
of President Clinton and also backs the appointment of Labor Secretary
Robert Reich, who has called for training programs to prepare
workers for technological changes.
"The greatest asset is the working person,"
Coia said, "and that person has to be developed."
Coia said he endorses Clinton troubleshooter
Ira Magaziner's proposal to establish nationwide, post-high school
vocational training programs. Such programs could be financed
by a combination of labor, management and government money, Coia
Many of the union's programs that are now
in place nationally originated in New England, Coia said, including
health and safety and training programs.
A successor as regional manager is expected to be named within two weeks. Coia said he has not decided whether to move to Washington, D.C., or commute from his home in Barrington.
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