By MARK PAZNIOKAS and ANDREW JULIEN
May 1, 1998
Stephen G. Manos said he got his usual welcome
Wednesday night at Laborers Local 230, the Hartford construction
union where Manos has been a member for 33 years and an officer
for the past three.
A burly sergeant-at-arms passed a metal detector
over him, checking for a hidden tape recorder, before a meeting
of the executive board at the union hall. Later, he was shouted
down while trying to speak at the general membership meeting.
``It was a real zoo. I should've been in
the WWF, instead of the Laborers Union,'' said Manos - the ``WWF''
being a wry reference to the televised theatrics of the World
Wrestling Federation. ``I was booed and hissed.
Manos, 53, of Glastonbury, said his journey
from insider to outcast began two years ago, when he decided to
do the unthinkable: challenge the union's boss, business manager
Charles LeConche, in an election next month for that key job with
He will tell his story Monday, when he testifies
in Washington before a congressional subcommittee on ``Impediments
to Union Democracy.'' It is a subject Manos said he knows well.
The hearing will focus welcome attention
on a stubborn problem: a history of dissents being crushed in
the labor movement, said Herman Benson, the founder of a Brooklyn,
N.Y., advocacy group, the Association for Union Democracy.
The first witness will be Clyde W. Summers,
a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a board
member of the Association for Union Democracy.
He will be followed by Manos.
Manos expects to tell the story of being
summoned into LeConche's office six days after Manos' election
as vice president in June 1995. LeConche, he said, abruptly told
him: ``I reward my friends and punish my enemies.''
His problems with LeConche began after he
complained that the union owed him money. Their relationship quickly
deteriorated, and LeConche invited Manos to take him on if
he didn't like the way the union operated, Manos said.
Since becoming a candidate for business manager,
Manos said he has been repeatedly harassed. Union members physically
threw him out of an executive board meeting in July, he said.
Hartford police investigated the incident,
but declined to make any arrests. Manos also complained to W.
Douglas Gow, who was named inspector general by the Laborers'
union international organization as part of a series of government-pressured
reforms in 1995.
``We took steps to ensure remedial actions
were taken by the local to preclude any further incidents, but
declined to take any disciplinary actions,'' said Robert Luskin,
the lawyer for the union's executive board in Washington.
LeConche since has sued Manos, who had secretly
taped the July meeting and shared a copy with the FBI. LeConche
said in the suit that Manos violated his rights. Manos said LeConche
now begins all executive board meetings by having his sergeant-at-arms
make sure no one is wired.
LeConche, who became the top Laborers leader
in Connecticut after the indictment and bribery conviction of
his predecessor, Dominick Lopreato, did not respond to repeated
requests this week for interviews.
Manos said he believes he has been blacklisted
by Local 230's hiring hall, a common complaint by dissidents in
construction unions. One company that employed him, Capitol Concrete
of Newington, was harassed by the union, he said.
The company's owner, Antonio Luiz, confirmed
that he had a bad stretch with the Laborers, but said he cannot
prove it was because he employed Manos.
``They were after my company,'' Luiz said.
``They brought me up on several phony charges. They put stewards
on the job that were just there to give me a hard time and create
chaos and frustrate me.''
``As far as the union squeezing [Manos],
they never came out and told me they didn't want him working here.
They can't do that, of course,'' Luiz said. ``I just sensed they
didn't want him working here. I sensed it.''
Luiz said he eventually laid off Manos because
there wasn't enough work, not because of union pressure. A foreman
who is on Manos' slate still works for Capitol Concrete, Luiz
Local 230 is affiliated with the Laborers
International Union of North America, which narrowly avoided being
placed in receivership by the U.S. Justice Department in early
1995 for anti-democratic practices and ties to organized crime.
The international promised a series of reforms,
including the establishment of an inspector general's office.
But dissidents in the union say the reforms have failed to make
Ronald Nobili, the business manager of Local
665 of Bridgeport, filed suit in federal court in November 1995,
complaining that the Laborers' statewide organization improperly
cut its budget because he did not support the statewide leadership.
The statewide organization also is run by LeConche.
Nobili said the Laborers will not become
democratic until its members believe they can speak out without
being denied the $12.80-to $16.50-an-hour laborers' jobs that
often are tightly controlled by the union's leadership.
Manos said he is looking forward to testifying
Monday. He is unsure what might come of his testimony, but, he
said, it will be a pleasure to speak out somewhere other than
his union hall.
``No one is going to boo me,'' Manos said.
``No one is going to attack me.''