August 1980

In the ninth-largest member union of the AFL-CIO, four officials have been murdered Hitmen planned to dispose of one intended victim's body by feeding it to sharks The union's entire national health & safety department consists of one man,part-time Millions of dollars in pension & health benefit funds have been siphoned off Mafia control of the Laborers Union is so complete, so ruthless, it could teach the Teamsters a few lessons


by Ed Barnes & Bob Windrem


THE DINING ROOM of the elegant Sheraton Carlton in Washington, D.C., comes alive early. By 7:30 most mornings, business executives and their Washington contacts are hurriedly arranging their schedules while black vested waiters dart among the crowded tables. The early sun glints gently off the marble floor. Outside, taxis sprint into the already-congested traffic of 16th Street.

Amid this frenetic activity, at a linen-covered table in a secluded corner, Angelo Fosco and his associates usually begin their day. As other tables empty and are reclaimed, Fosco and his guests calmly huddle. The men nod gravely as Fosco jots figures on a napkin, occasionally gesturing with his pen. Dressed in a tailored suit that covers his thick frame, Fosco can hardly be distinguished from the conservatively attired business people who surround him.

Few in the room, though, are as powerful as this squat man with hooded eyes and dark, slicked-back hair. As president of the Laborers International Union of North America, Angelo Fosco heads the ninth-largest union in the AFL-CIO. He is the fifth-highest-paid union president in the nation. As he sips his $1.50 cup of coffee, many of the 475,000 members of his union are already at work-sweeping the streets of Chicago, collectlng garbage in Birmingham, Alabama, teaching school in Oklahoma City, pulling mail sacks off conveyor belts in Jersey City and preparing for the first bettors at the pari-mutuel windows of Philadelphia's Liberty Bell Racetrack. But, mostly, they are doing the dirty work of America's construction industry: digging the holes, carrying the bricks and pouring the cement that goes into apartment complexes, office buildings, hotels and ' factories.

Despite its size, the Laborers Union is the least-known union in the United States. Its strikes are usually small and directed at one single contractor; they rarely intrude on the public's routine. The back-breaking work which Laborers do is rarely coveted. Local offices are often passed from father to son and are seldom contested. Many members have difficulty speaking English. Articulate dissent is almost unheard of. It is a union content to remain in the background of the labor movement.

Ironically, it has the potential to be one of the strongest. Straddling the construction industry, its men carry the steel for ironworkers, the lumber for carpenters and the bricks for masons. They dig the holes for pipefitters and plumbers and unload the wire for electricians. Without the Laborers' brawn no union construction site in the nation could function.

Few people question the influence of the Laborers Union. But, according to a secret U.S. Justice Department memorandum prepared for the White House in 1978, Fosco himself may not have much actual power. In fact, this memo-which no reporter had seen until a copy came into the hands of Mother Jones-bluntly states that Fosco "is a tool of the crime syndicate. Major decisions regarding Laborers Union contracts are made by organized crime leaders, not Fosco." The memo states that Fosco "follows the orders of Al Pilotto and Vincent Solano, two local union presidents and LCN [La Cosa Nostra] lieutenants; and Joey Aiuppa," reputedly the current boss of the Chicago Syndicate according to other sources.

That assessment of the long-ignored union comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed the Laborers' history.

From its beginnings in the brutal padrone ("boss") system, which forced indentured immigrants to work off their passages to America in virtual slavery to labor contractors, to the sophisticated swindles that currently drain millions of dollars from its members, this union has been torn by violence and systemic corruption.

Even if the current grand jury investigation of Fosco and three other top Laborers results in indictments on racketeering charges, it is likely that little will change for members such as Wakil Abdunafi of New Jersey Local 394 or Chris White of Alaska Local 942 and other dissidents who have sought to reform the Laborers. They have learned a bitter lesson: their union is not their own. It has been stolen from them-lock, stock and pension fund.

What follows is the first comprehensive examination in print of how this has been done. Mafia control of the Laborers International Union is so tight and comprehensive that an examination reveals almost a textbook set of techniques that can be used to take over a labor union.


1 Use your most powerful weapon: the hiring hall

Dissidents have learned a bitter lesson: that their union has been stolen from them-lock, stock & pension fund

At 8:12 a.m. on October 23, 1979, John Riggi, business manager of Laborers Local 394 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, cradled a phone to his ear, nodded twice and scanned the collection of ragged-shirted men hovering against the dirt-stained, lime-green walls of his hiring hall. With one arm resting on the sign-in sheet, he searched the men's faces. For the third time in two hours and 12 minutes, they grew silent and stiffened expectantly.

Without looking at the list, Riggi turned and spoke quietly to the union secretary, who then leaned across the counter which separated them from the hall and called five men. The five rose went silently through the locked door of the main office and followed Riggi into his private, wood-paneled inner office. Through a one-way mirror, Riggi could see the men outside return to their conversations. A few minutes later the five, clutching white referral slips, walked past the knots of other men, down the stairs and out the security door. Today, they would work.

Along the walls the remaining men muttered to each other, "The same old faces, again."

Each morning from 6 to 9:30, Riggi exercises absolute control over the livelihoods of almost a thousand construction workers who must go into his office in order to work. That control has given Riggi, and the officials of other locals, what one judge recently called "the power to starve." Riggi has never been squeamish about using it. It was that power that helped him maintain control despite an indictment for extorting thousands of dollars from a union employer (he was acquitted)), despite the indictment and conviction of the local's pension fund manager, Meyer Kleinberg, for embezzlement-and despite allegations that Riggi himself is the boss of New Jersey's Mafia, overseeing such activities as loansharking, selling of pornography, gambling and labor racketeering.

A short, stocky, balding man who was three-time president of his high school class, Riggi does not look the part of a Mafia don.

He arrives early each morning, usually an hour after the hall opens, dressed immaculately in pressed slacks and a conservative sports jacket. Though he is short, his wide shoulders make him appear taller. As he silently walks past the waiting knots of men, some rise from the hardwood benches to greet him. His words, though, are not wasted on greetings. His entrance into the referral office marks the beginning of the work day. From behind a desk, a waiting man approaches Riggi and kisses him on both cheeks. The ritual is a sign of respect.

Those familiar with Riggi's activities say he is one of the most powerful men in New Jersey's industrial heartland. Perhaps the key element in his exercise of that influence is his iron-fisted control of the Laborers' hiring hall. No one has ever held a job as a laborer on a union project site in Central New Jersey without Riggi's approval. Each time a referral slip is issued, the worker is personally indebted to Riggi. Each time he passes a worker over for a job, Riggi- in effect-issues a warning of what can happen to the man who provokes his anger.

For the Laborers of Central New Jersey, the message is clear-don't cross John Riggi and expect to work.

Just how the union was to be run was explained to Riggi on June 10, 1964, the day he was told he was the new boss of the union. According to FBI wiretaps, Simone ("Sam the Plumber") De Cavalcante called Riggi into the office of his Kenilworth plumbing and heating company that day and promoted him. De Cavalcante, who at the time had no official connection with the union but was reputedly New Jersey's reigning don, was upset because the men of New York Mafia boss Carlo Gambino were not getting work fast enough.

Unknown to the workers, Riggi was given the union and an order: Keep the amico nostro ("friends of ours") working-at all costs.

"This is your future, John, but you have to take care of these men," Riggi was told.

"The least of your worries will be our people," he replied to De Cavalcante, his don.

By all indications, Riggi has spent the past 16 years keeping that promise. In 1969, a grand jury issued findings "condemning" union leaders "who permit themselves to be dominated by alleged mobsters or who willingly cooperate with reputed criminals in victimizing their members," a veiled reference to Local 394's willingness to help the mob sell peaceful labor relations and to allow nonunion construction projects in return for kickbacks.

In 1969, a U.S. attorney charged that 21 members of the local were Mafia soldiers. The same number was cited two years later in an FBI report. FBI intelligence reports over the years have repeatedly accused the local of being headquarters for gambling operations. Typically, one 1977 report states that "by taking action [i.e., bets] a worker can insure that he will be one of the last workers laid off since the mob will take care of him since he is making money for them [sic]."

Every working day for the past six years, a heavy-set, six-foot black man has sat and watched Riggi's arrival at the hiring hall. During those years a number of men, many of whom are nonmembers, pensioners or friends of Riggi's, have walked by Wakil Abdunafi on their way to work. Abdunafi, who has been a Laborer for some-17 years, is not called.

From November 1974, shortly before he filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seeking a fairer referral system, until June 1978, Abdunafi, despite "shaping-up" at the hall each day, has worked exactly 26 hours.

Abdunafi says he is aware of the reputations of the local's leaders. "I'm not afraid of the Mafia," he says. "I just want to get out of this hellhole. I want my kids out of the ghetto." As he speaks in a deep, intense voice, a two-inch cockroach darts across the wall of his living room. Before he filed charges against the local he lived undisturbed in an apartment he was about to buy.

In March 1975, however, a city inspector showed up at his door and told Abdunafi he did not have enough "air space" and that he was to be evicted. Abdunafi was forced into a rubble-strewn housing project on the Elizabeth waterfront. Riggi posted an article about the eviction on the local's bulletin board, where it hung for two years.

After ten years of fighting for a more equitable system of distributing the union's work, Abdunafi says he has learned one lesson. "The only thing that keeps the union officials in power is the control of the hiring hall. As long as the men can be arbitrarily denied work, they never will have any voice in the affairs of the union."

That lesson, he says, has been jack hammered into his head every nonworking day of the past ten years. When he tried to file internal union charges, he found that each of the men on the trial board depended upon Riggi for his job and that the board members worked twice as often as other union members.

Each time that his charges were heard and dismissed, while charges against him were upheld, he relearned the lesson: he once was suspended from union meetings for one year for swearing. When a friend, who testified on his behalf, stopped getting referred to jobs, he was retaught the lesson. And it was hammered home again when co-workers stumbled over their own lies as they testified about jobs which they claimed Abdunafi had turned down.

What is unique about Abdunafi is the tenacious, often lonely, ten-year battle he has waged to regain his union rights. Most others have not had the courage to battle the union.

In 1969, a man we will call Thomas Smith was pulled off a construction site to make room for men Riggi wanted to work. Though it was not the first time, Smith vowed that it would be the last. He drove from the job to the federal building in Newark and filed a complaint with the FBI. According to a federal anti-racketeering intelligence report, Smith was given one of the most desirable jobs in the local the day after the complaint was filed. In return, he dropped the complaint. The federal report said that this incident was a "typical buy-off."

Another Laborer we will call Leon Jones got into the local with the help of his brother-in-law during the construction boom of the early 1970s. Despite promises of quick work, he shaped-up for several weeks without a referral. Finally, one Wednesday, he was sent to a construction site in Bayonne, New Jersey, to dig a trench. That Friday he was handed a $100 paycheck for three days' work. When he returned to the union hall, thankful for the work, he was told that thanks were not enough. He was ordered to put $30 in an envelope under the seat of a nearby truck. He complied but later protested. After the protest, he says, he could not get another job and was forced to leave the local. He is now an exterminator. For him and others, the price of protest was too steep-a fact that every hiring hall boss relies upon.

When Abdunafi began his effort to reform the hiring hall, Riggi appeared little concerned. according to NLRB testimony. "Don't argue with these guys, Pop," he told his father (who had headed the same local until he was convicted of extortion) at a particularly heated union meeting. "I'll hit them in the pocketbook, where it hurts."

Eight years after Riggi uttered those words, an NLRB judge ruled that job applicants in the local were referred "on the basis of solely subjective, irrelevant, unfair and invidious standards" and that the local had refused Abdunafi and the co-worker who had testified for him solely because they had opposed the hiring hall system.

In his 90-page decision, issued March 16, 1979 (currently under appeal), Administrative Law Judge William Jacobs ordered the local to reform the hiring hall in "a nondiscriminatory manner based on objective criteria"; to initiate "comprehensive record-keeping," available to all members, that would disclose the bases for each referral; and to repay Abdunafi and his friend for lost wages.

In anticipation of such a ruling, Local 394 instituted a sign-in sheet in September 1977, from which each worker is to be called when jobs come in. It is the same sign-in sheet which Riggi ignored that day he sent five men to work.

2 Have friends at City Hall.

In 25 years Peter Fosco went from being called an associate of mobsters to being applauded by Richard Nixon as a model citizen.

As the memory of Al Capone fades, the clippings on file in the Chicago Tribune library grow kinder to the Fosco family. Headlines like "Parole Inquiry Hits 2 Union Leaders" give way to "Peter Fosco, Union Leader, to be Honored."

In just 25 years, Peter Fosco, patriarch of the Laborers' first family and father of the union's current president, went from being called a gangland associate of Capone crony Paul ("The Waiter") Ricca in exposes, to having Richard Nixon applaud him as an "outstanding citizen."

But the rise of the Foscos is not just a story of the Laborers Union. It is also a story of Chicago, and the oligarchy of corrupt politicians, businessmen, union leaders and mobsters which has run that city for more than 50 years. The Foscos' accommodation of the mob-or Syndicate, in local parlance-has its roots in the Roaring '20s, when Peter Fosco, a 21-year-old Italian immigrant, first made his deals with the men who replaced the padrones.

Within two years after his arrival in Chicago during April of 1913, he had become a business agent of Laborers Local 2, whose members were then digging the city's sewer system. His political initiation soon followed. His first run for elective office, as a Republican candidate for state legislature, failed and led to a city hall riot in 1920. Fosco survived that melee, as he would each succeeding wave of violence that would sweep across the city in the '20s. His associates were not so lucky. Both Anthony D'Andrea, his union mentor as president of Local 2; and Joseph ("Diamond Joe") Esposito, his political mentor, were among 13 mob murder victims in 1921.

Like his power in the Laborers, Fosco's clout in local politics grew over the years. By the 1930s, he had become part of Chicago's political apparatus, having been elected a Democratic committeeman (the Capone clique was bipartisan) in the First Ward. Fosco's preeminence in the union, as manager of the huge Chicago area district, came in 1936. Two years later, he solidified his position at city hall by being elected a Cook County Commissioner.

His only public embarrassment came in 1948 when a congressional committee called him to testify about the early release of his gangster friend Paul Ricca from federal prison. Ricca had forced the issue when he called Fosco his "close friend." Fosco never denied the friendship, and congressional probes revealed a Fosco aide had served as an emissary for a key exchange of money needed to free Ricca.

But by 1950, Peter Fosco's less savory past had been forgotten, or at least ignored. He became secretary-treasurer of the Laborers International, the No.2 position in the union, and in 1968, he went to Washington as national president, ostensibly because of his organizing work in Chicago.

As he moved up, so did his family. Angelo, his son, succeeded him as Chicago regional manager. When Peter Fosco died in 1975, Angelo succeeded him again, this time as president of the union. Today, Angelo's son, named Peter after his grandfather, continues the family line as the Laborers' regional manager in Chicago.

But the Justice Department says the actual boss of the union is the underboss of the Chicago Syndicate. "Until his death in 1974, Syndicate underboss Paul ("The Waiter") Ricca appointed most officials of Chicago's major unions," the report states, noting that the Laborers in particular fell under Ricca's domination. More important, the report indicates that control is passed along to each succeeding underboss as something of an institutional privilege.

The privilege is lucrative, the report adds, with a share of the proceeds from shakedowns and other illegal activities run through the union going to the underboss. In return, the underboss insures that union leaders rule unchallenged. "Problems in union discipline or with recalcitrant employers are solved with muscle."

Buttressing the argument that the Foscos have led the union in name only is a list of those who have succeeded to union posts under their rule. Most notable is Local 1 President Vincent Anthony Solano Sr., described as a "ruling member of the Chicago La Cosa Nostra. Solano has charge of gambling, prostitution [and labor] shakedowns on Chicago's North Side.... No one without hood connections can aspire to leadership in this local," the Justice Department report states.

Also mentioned is Alfred Pilotto, the president of Local 5, who is given credit for control of illegal activities on Chicago's SouthSide and involvement with mob interests as far away as Las Vegas.

Although the Foscos are no longer officially part of Chicago's political apparatus, the family's political legacy lives on in the form of Local 1001, the 5,000-member municipal workers union that Peter Fosco formed while serving as First Ward Committeeman. In the mid-'60s, Frank ("Frankie the X") Esposito ran the local and provided "no-show" city jobs for Chicago hoodlums.

Esposito had angered Sam Giancana, his patron and Syndicate chief at the time, and as punishment, Giancana ordered him hit. The demise was to be particularly grisly. A team of hitmen went to Florida, where Esposito was vacationing. There, they were to lure him to a boat, kill him, cut up his body and feed his remains to the sharks.

The FBI, overhearing talk of the plan on a wiretap, sent word to Esposito, who cooled his problems with Giancana and was permitted to live out his life as local president.

Local 1001 is now run by Joseph Spingola, who the Justice Department claims was appointed by Ricca. Spingola is also the president of Chicago's 40,000-member Laborers District Council. With a combined salary of $125,000 a year, he is the highest-paid public employee union official in the country.

In spite of the Laborers' reputation, Spingola's two positions have given him considerable political clout and made him a source of generous campaign contributions, both to former mayor, Michael Bilandic, and to current mayor, Jane Byrne. Both Spingola and his son, Michael, hold appointive positions on Chicago municipal boards.

Apparently, maintaining friendly relations with the mob is equally important. In 1977, the Organized Crime Strike Force in Chicago sent FBI agents into the offices of Consultants and Administrators Inc., a small company with Syndicate connections which supplies dental and eye services to members of locals in Chicago and Florida. According to a report of that raid, a total of more than $12,000 in five separate envelopes was seized. A corresponding list indicated that the money was earmarked for Angelo Fosco, Al Pilotto and three other figures with alleged crime connections.

"We're still working on it [the probe of the alleged payoffs]" the prosecutor on the case says. "But the envelopes and the list of names and amounts were found separately, and unless we get someone who will testify on who got what and why, we can't bring a case."

3 Profit from the technology that is putting many of your men out of work

In New York, the Laborers' long-cultivated image as a union that quietly goes about its business was shattered on June 11, 1968. On that day a special state investigative commission introduced New Yorkers to the union's darker side.

The hearings focused on the ten locals that make up the Mason Tenders' District Council; they revealed an almost complete dominance of the union by racketeers and "members of the national crime syndicate."

The commission report detailed the control of union officials by members of the Genovese, Gambino and Lucchese crime families who arranged or got part of: payoffs by contractors to avoid union pension and welfare fund payments; payoffs to allow jobs to go nonunion; payoffs for sweetheart contracts which forced union employees to work below union scale; the theft of more than 25 percent of the welfare fund annually; loansharking and gambling on construction sites; and, incredibly, the sale of jobs to the local's own members.

In Queens County Local 13, for example, two men, including the secretary-treasurer, were murdered during three years of bloodshed, the commission reported, as two brothers, backed by competing members of the Genovese crime family, battled for its control. One bomb destroyed a union car; a second was found rigged to the local's door, set to explode when it opened. Union officers funneled an estimated $20,000 a month to racketeers. Attempts on members' lives became almost commonplace.

Today, the surviving brother is still with the local. The grim picture of Mob influence on the Laborers Union in New York was reaffirmed in the Justice Department's secret 1978 memorandum to the White House on Laborer racketeering. The authors of that report listed 13 New York City Laborers locals (as well as 116 other city locals) as being "under the influence of organized crime." Sad to say, neither the state nor the federal report claimed to be comprehensive.

One local not mentioned in either report is Local 29 in Manhattan. When the state issued its report in 1968, the union hall of Local 29 was a busy place, supplying work for more than a thousand members. Every time a skyscraper, tunnel, highway or utility line was approved for construction in the city, a crew of dynamite-handlers, blasters, drillers and miners from Local 29's East 75th Street hall would be the first to arrive at the site.

Their job, one of the most dangerous in the nation, was to blast the gaping pits in New York's bedrock into which other workers would later lay foundations or reinforced concrete piping. Without the Laborers from Local 29 preparing a site, no other union could work.

Things are different today. Membership has fallen to less than 400, and the hall is a quiet place where a few unemployed members loiter. Even the number of jobs for chippers-workers who jackhammer open the sea of cement that covers the city's aging utility system-has waned.

Instead of seven or eight laborers with jackhammers, contractors now use the hoe-ram, a hydraulic sledgehammer mounted on a back hoe, to splinter the concrete. When members complained to Local 29 President Louis Sanzo about the machines stealing their jobs, he told them it was progress, that there was nothing that could be done. What Sanzo did not tell them is that if the union fought the use of the hoe-ram, it might reduce the profits of his wife's firm, Jo Lo Leasing.

According to Internal Revenue Service records and company invoices, Bertha Sanzo, along with two of the union's principal contractors, began the hoe-ram leasing business on July 21, 1977. Unemployment in the union was already severe then. Since that time, it has gotten worse. When asked to comment on this and on matters regarding his alleged involvement with organized crime, Louis Sanzo angrily denied all accusations and hung up the phone.

4 Don't waste money on worker health & safety

Of all the scams & rackets that operate through the union, workers agree that the theft of benefit funds is the cruelest.

When Edith Wright's commnon-law husband (a Laborer) was murdered in his New York apartment, his brothers brought over papers which clearly showed that Wright's two children were the baneficiaries of the man's union insurance. For four years union benefit fund administrator Sam Cavaleri, Jr., smiled each time he saw the neatly dressed widow walk into the hall; each time he refused to issue the check. "You need more paperwork," he would say.

"They thought I was dumb because I had kids out of wedlock," Wright explained. Finally, last year, she found a lawyer and forced the union to make good on the insurance.

In July 1979 the union issued a check for the $10,000 coverage plus more than $2,000 in interest. But the battle still has not ended. While Edith Wright was waiting for the payment, she told one of the members about her problems getting her childrens' money. The member listened and showed her the insurance policy, which carries a double-indemnity clause. "They owe you $20,000." Five years after her husband was buried she is still in court. Wright is one of an estimated ten widows in Local 29 alone who have been unable to collect benefits their husbands paid for.

For all their toil, and for all the thousands of dollars in dues that members have to pay each year, a great many have gotten little or nothing in return. Just who profits from those funds, held in trust for members, has been an open question, at least in New York, for almost 20 years.

Ever since Dominick Falletti, a Queens County butcher, sat in front of a New York Commission of Investigation microphone in 1969 and explained how he became a member of Laborers Local 46 "for the benefits," members have been justly worried that their claims might be denied because their benefit funds had been looted.

Falletti told the commission that on September 9, 1963, without leaving his meat market on 101st Avenue, he paid a $70 initiation fee to Local 46 business agent "Blackie" D'Agostino and became a Laborer. D'Agostino, he said, told him he should join for the insurance coverage and that he would not be expected to work. Occasionally, after Falletti joined, D'Agostino would return to the store and ask him to endorse and cash a check. Afraid of losing a good customer, Falletti obliged and never questioned why he was asked to cash some $10,000 worth of union paychecks.

Falletti said he was surprised to learn from investigators that he was listed as an employee of the Clarson Construction Company and told the commission he had not worked on a construction site in 25 years. Falleti explained that although he had signed and cashed the checks, all the money was promptly turned over to D'Agostino.

Falletti was even more surprised to learn that a union physician, whom he had never met, had filed claims with the local's insurance fund stating that he had given Falletti and his wife X-rays, electrocardiograms and gall bladder tests, and that he had even made several house calls.

By the time the hearings ended, the commission had estimated confidently that 25 percent of the welfare fund that covered ten New York Laborers locals was looted annually by phony claims.

Like that of Local 46, the welfare fund of Local 29 is self-insured. Each claim that is paid from the fund comes out of the hourly contributions of workers and not from some distant insurance company. There is a limit, therefore, to the number and amount of claims that can be paid before the fund is jeopardized. A Manhattan investigation is currently trying to determine if Wright and others have been denied payments because the local's welfare fund has been paying an excessive amount of fraudulent claims. Evidence already uncovered has a familiar ring. The owner of a toolgrinding store, who never worked in the local, received $32,000 in benefits.

A prison inmate received paychecks from a contractor and $1,000 in union benefits. The cousin of a local official got $10,000 for an accident claim but was refused state disability payments when workers on the job where he said he was employed testified they had never seen him before.

No one is certain yet how extensive the fraudulent claims from the local's funds may be, but one office worker familiar with the records estimates that of the 395 union books now issued, as many as 100 may belong to men who have not set foot on a construction site.

Of all the scams and rackets that operate through the union, workers agree that the theft of benefit funds is the cruelest. For most Laborers the benefit funds are the primary source of protection against death and injury, two companions never very far from any construction site.

In Local 29, for example, virtually every member with more than ten years on the job has some form of silicosis caused by the dust that has been blasted into their lungs. Union minutes listing insurance claims read like a Saturday night emergency room log. Almost all members carry at least one scar earned on the job. Hearing loss and back problems are chronic.

"We work at the most dangerous job in construction and they've never done anything to make it safer," one dissident says. It is a complaint that echoes through the Laborers International.

For the nearly 500,000 men working in occupations that are among the most dangerous in the nation, the union has assigned only one man to deal with worker-safety problems. A member of a half-dozen committees, he has little time and less power to take any effective action to make work safe for Laborers.

The appropriately named Joe M. Short is the International's entire safety department-and he spends only part of his time on that job. He says he realizes silicosis is a serious problem and that it is the oldest-known yet least safeguarded-against occupational hazard in the country. He knows that it can take a worker's life in a matter of weeks, or prolong the agony over years. He knows that many men quit their jobs because of the debilitating disease, thinking that the aches and the slowness are signs of age, and that they die without knowing they might have been entitled to treatment and disability payments. He knows that it takes little to prevent the disease: decent venting of tunnels, water attachments for drills to dampen dust or sufficient time for dust to settle after a blast. But, unfortunately, he does not know how many Laborers might have the disease or what is being done to prevent it.

The International keeps no accident figures, so Short is unable to estimate the extent or magnitude of the danger construction workers face each day. Short says, however, that 600 supervisors have only recently been taught how to recognize hazards on job sites. But that seems to be the extent of the union's commitment to the workers' health and safety. Tragically, the effort is better than that of most unions, few of which give workers the right to strike for safety violations.

A few miles from Local 29's headquarters, at the 23-acre Jersey City Bulk Mail Center, members of Laborers Local 325 say that this sort of disregard for the welfare of the rank and file cost Mike McDermott his life. McDermott, 25, was crushed when he became entangled in a conveyor belt that workers had complained for years was unsafe. His death became a national issue after co-workers walked off their jobs to protest hazardous conditions in the nation's largest mail facility and prompted congressional hearings into the plant's safety systems.

5. Take the (insurance) money & run.

In 1973, Joseph Hauser, a bankrupt and beleaguered insurance swindler, decided he could make millions selling dubious policies to the volatile South Florida construction unions.

(Power struggles in the booming locals had left at least one official murdered.) Despite a troubled past, he knew he could get by with a little help from his friends.

He could not have brought much with him when he arrived in Miami save a tattered reputation and the remains of a bankrupt pre-paid union health plan firm that he had abandoned in California, leaving $1.5 million in unpaid medical claims. But it was a start.

He quickly purchased the small Farmers National Life, a financially troubled insurance firm, for $1.5 million. He then hired attorney Seymour Gopman, whose $7 million a year practice monopolized the South Florida construction unions' legal business. On a retainer of $2,500 a month, Gopman had the job of introducing Hauser to union officers whose trust funds he could insure.

By the time Hauser's second insurance empire crumbled, in 1976, he and the friends he had paid to meet, mainly relatives and associates of Laborers officials, had siphoned off at least $11.7 million and had left 20 union trust funds in eight states floundering. No one is certain how much Hauser made, but at the time of the collapse he owned two mortgage-free homes worth a total of $900,000 and had placed $1.1 million in a Swiss bank account.

Hauser's strategy was simple. With the help of union officials (who seldom went unrewarded) he would sell standard life and health insurance policies for union members to the union benefit funds at apparently competitive prices. Once the insurance was in place, the trustees, usually influenced by one official Hauser had paid off, would agree to switch the type of coverage. The new policy would be similar to the original except for Hauser's commissions, which generally jumped from between four and ten percent often to more than 130 percent. Investigators who waded through the rubble of the crumbled insurance empire that collected $39.2 million in union premiums in two and a half years recognized how simple the scam was. They called it a Ponzi scheme.

The key figure in the success of Hauser's operation, at least in the early stages, was Bernard G. Rubin. When Gopman introduced the two men in Miami's posh Jockey Club, they could hardly have seemed more dissimilar. Hauser had just fled California, where the state's insurance department had publicly branded him "untrustworthy." His looted insurance plans were under investigation, and labor officials whom he had bribed to secure business were becoming concerned.

Rubin, on the other hand, was at the height of his power, exercising unquestioned control over the building trade's unions in Florida's Dade and Broward counties. An officer of two locals and a trustee of five benefit funds and a special representative of the International, he drew $180,000 that year in salaries- twice that of his ostensible superior, AFL-CIO President George Meany.

Despite their differences, the two men apparently got along well. Insurance, Rubin had learned, could be lucrative if things were done right. Several months earlier he had seen another insurance wheeler-dealer walk away with a life insurance policy for the Southeast Florida District Council of Laborers that allowed him to keep 90 percent of the $1.7 million premium as a commission. This time, Rubin would share in the profits.

Just days after the two met, the first South Florida Health and Welfare Fund began making premium payments on a Hauser-written policy. By the time they were finished, the health and welfare funds of five Laborers' locals and three other construction unions had paid almost $14 million in premiums. Of that sum, about a third-$4.2 million- could not be accounted for two years later by the insurance companies.

The partnership seemed to work well. Rubin was given an indirect ownership in Farmers National and began to cruise around Miami in a new Porsche leased by the firm. Rubin's friend and attorney, Seymour Gopman was put on the firm's board of directors, another of Rubin's close friends was given the top executive position, and two of his relatives went on the payroll.

Not even Rubin's 103-count indictment on July 8, 1975, charging that he embezzled approximately $40O,OOO in union funds, nor his conviction three months later could diminish the partnership or Rubin's influence. For two years after a federal judge imposed a five-year sentence on him, Rubin continued to hold all but his post with the International. He even continued to take part regularly in the affairs of Farmers National. And while he appealed his conviction during those two years, he allegedly managed to embezzle another $2 million.

If anything, the effect of Rubin's conviction was to increase his power. As government efforts to remove him from his union posts failed-the Labor Department refused a Justice Department request to monitor the locals, and the International backed down after promising to place them into trusteeship- Rubin's stature grew considerably.

But Rubin's influence and friendship were only one part of a larger scheme to defraud the union. As Hauser expanded his operations to other states he met and shared his business with other influential Laborers officials and their relatives. "We were never turned down," a former partner of Hauser's testified. Indeed, he (like other alleged mobsters, such as Chicago's Al Pilotto) holds one of 85 lucrative but largely ceremonial positions as special International representatives, appointed by Angelo Fosco.

Paul Fosco was no stranger to insider deals when he met Hauser. The 27 year-old son of Laborers Union President Angelo Fosco and brother of the Chicago regional manager, he already was a director of Consultants and Administrators Inc., the medical service company which figured in Chicago crime investigations and which also lists Alfred Pilotto as a trustee.

Hauser gave young Fosco about $26.O,OOO to open the P.F. Insurance Agency. When Fosco failed the state insurance exam, Hauser saw to it that he was coached until he passed, and signed an agreement giving Fosco more than half his national profits in the first year. In return, Fosco delivered the $5.6 million insurance contract with the Indiana District Council of Laborers.

When a Senate investigating committee asked Fosco about his role in the sale of life and health insurance to the Indiana council, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 12 times before being excused.

In Rhode Island, Hauser found that Arthur Coia Jr., the son of the then International vice president and regional director of the state's district council of Laborers, was also interested in insurance. They set up the Northeast Insurance Agency, which shortly afterward helped place the district council's $700,000 a year insurance contract with a firm Hauser controlled.

The same pattern was used to obtain another $10.6 million in premiums from Laborers locals in Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts before Hauser was sent to jail for bribing union officers in California.

6. Beware of dissidents

Laborers in the rank & file around the country watch as mob influence manifests itself more more vividly

Every so often one of the seven men scattered around the living room in the house of an unemployed Laborer in Fairbanks, Alaska, rises, pulls on a heavy parka and quietly leaves. For the next ten minutes, the sound of a reving car engine fills the background as the others continue to talk of union reform. Moments later, leaving his car's engine warmed against the subzero cold which would freeze it useless in 30 minutes, the man swings the door open and rejoins the conversation.

It is a typical meeting of Ruled Out Of Order (ROOR), a coalition of dissident Alaskan unionists (loosely affiliated with the Teamsters for a Democratic Union) who are organizing statewide opposition to their "corrupt and incompetent union leaders." ROOR is composed of members of several unions, and the members from the Laborers represent virtually the only organized dissident movement in the Laborers Union.

Dissidence might never have surfaced in Alaska were it not for the end of the oil pipeline boom. By 1979, unemployment among Alaskan Laborers had topped 70 percent and prospects of future work were dim. Almost 80 percent of the members, according to the dissidents, have lost or are about to lose their pensions. Among the men who continued to shape-up for work in the morning, there grew a sense that the leadership was taking care of itself and its friends while the majority of members had to scrape just to pay dues.

"Hell, when things got bad they raised the dues so they could maintain their $65,000 a year salaries. They were flying around in airplanes we paid for, to the tune of some $700,000 and wouldn't even put a coffee machine in our old hall," said Chris White, a Laborer and secretary-treasurer of ROOR. "When we'd ask questions about union finances, they wouldn't even talk to us. That made us curious. What we found out made us mad."

Armed with little more than curiosity and the free time of the unemployed, White and Sam Goodman, also a Laborer, began to haunt courthouses, government offices, libraries and anywhere else they might uncover financial records. Slowly a picture began to emerge of a union leadership more concerned with exercising political and economic muscle than the brawn of its members. The Alaskan dissidents found that almost half of their $80 million pension fund had been invested in real-estate speculation.

"We couldn't believe it. They even gave a $405,000 mortgage to Joseph Hay's [the Alaskan House of Representatives minority leader] company while we had 70 percent of our members out of work, and he was opposing higher unemployment benefits and sponsoring a cutback in disability payments," White recalls. A bear of a man, White has turned all of his immense energy to tracking down just where his dues money has gone.

For example, he and his dissident colleagues discovered that a series of allegedly illegal party-in-interest loans totaling $2.4 million had gone to many of the state's most prominent and influential businessmen. The dissidents say that union leaders allowed loans to be made, often at terms not in the interests of the fund.

But the pension fund is only one of the fronts in ROOR's all-out assault. The organization is also challenging what it says are illegal dues increases (Laborers now pay three percent of their weekly salaries) as well as promoting opposition candidates and urging by-laws reform to make the unions more democratic. Already a suit has been won that compelled the Laborers Union to mail out campaign literature of opposition candidates. A suit filed to overturn Local 942's last election has yet to be heard: during this election dissidents were beaten and shot at.

In response, the Alaskan union leadership has accused the dissidents of an "antiunion campaign" and has hired the Washington, D.C., law firm of Connerton, Schulman and Bernstein, which also represents the International, to pressure Teamster reformers into withdrawing their support of the Laborer dissidents.

One of the firm's partners, interestingly, is Jules Bernstein, vice chairman of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee and the head of an early "Draft Kennedy" campaign in Washington, D.C. Despite his liberal rhetoric, Bernstein flew to Alaska to defend the Laborers' leadership there against the dissidents' lawsuit.

Chris White and his Laborers counterparts throughout the United States have their work cut out for them. Union leaders are inaccessible, both to the rank and file and to the press: when called by Mother Jones to be asked about the various accusations leveled against them, Fosco, Riggi, Pilotto and Solano were all unavailable for comment. But around the country, rank and file Laborers watch as mob influence continues to manifest itself in more and more vivid fashion. In St. Louis, Missouri, the bombing of a Cadillac rocked Local 53, killing a newly hired business agent whose only credentials appear to have been a long criminal record and the friendship of Missouri mobsters. In Los Angeles, a federal grand jury wants to know why a local there may have allowed a doctor with a history of Medicaid and MediCal abuses to charge the union's welfare fund for examinations that allegedly never occurred. In Hot Springs, Arkansas, three former officers of Local 1282 are awaiting trial, accused of embezzling thousands of dollars in union funds. In Newark, a Local 734 officer has been charged with taking a kickback on a $375,000 pension fund loan.

In Cleveland, a man convicted of two cop-killings, who spent much of 1978 and 1979 on the FBl's Ten Most Wanted list, was re-employed by Local 860 though he is facing new murder conspiracy charges. In Connecticut, a business agent for Local 445 was videotaped allegedly splitting kickbacks with mobsters, saying, "I would never rob you."

In Arizona and in Columbus, Ohio, union officers have gone to jail for embezzling union funds to support their lavish lifestyles, and one former Ohio prosecutor, James Palmeri, has stated that "80 to 90 percent of the officials of the Laborers Union nationally could be charged with similar crimes if the Labor Department chose to act."

The dissidents have found that geting any government help to fight racketeers in their unions is extremely difficult. It took Wakil Abdunafi seven years to win a victory that is yet to be implemented. In Alaska, dissidents have waited two years for a response to their charges of pension fund misuse, and have yet to hear a word. Exasperated by the delay, burly Sam Goodman, said to be the largest Laborer in Alaska, used his last $700 for a trip to Organized Crime Strike Force regional headquarters in San Francisco, where he threatened to camp until a lawyer was sent to investigate.

"We were pretty dumb when we started," Chris White said. "It took us a while to learn these guys are protected by politicians who are supposed to represent us. We knew Ed Orbeck [former president of the local, now Alaskan secretary of labor] wouldn't help, but we believed the feds were above it. We were wrong.''

The influential protective arm of the AFL-CIO has given the Laborers Union immunity from the politically timid Department of Labor. Peter Vaira, the U.S. attorney who released the first Abscam indictments, told the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 1978 about the lack of support he received from the Labor Department: "There are some compliance officers [investigators] who have attempted to do a good job," Vaira testified. "but they have been severely restricted and unrewarded by their agency."

Inside the AFL-CIO-of which the Laborers Union is a member in good standing-the story is the same. The federation, which under its Ethical Practices Code can take steps to eliminate corruption in an affiliated union, has steadfastly refused to risk a corruption scandal that might damage its political power. It is an attitude held not just by George Meany's successor, Lane Kirkland, and other old guard members, but by the political radicals such as Machinists President William Winpisinger, who is sometimes called the conscience of labor. Chris White said he once approached Winpisinger and asked for help on behalf of Alaskan Laborers dissidents. "He looked at me and said, 'Why don't you just quit?'"

Criticism of corruption in the labor movement is left, by default, to business groups who use it to defuse organizing campaigns. All too often, American radicals-and not just those in the labor movement, such as Winpisinger- ignore the fact that it is people like Chris White and his fellow workers whom union racketeering hurts most. A union whose leaders have long-owed allegiance to organized crime's feudal system is one whose first loyalty is not to the interests of its members. Crooked union officials have benefited from the Laborers corruption, but, in the long run, employers who face a weakened union benefit still more. Where graft rules, political principles are forgotten: a review of the Laborers' largest pension funds show that in 1977, four funds, including one whose lead trustee is Angelo Fosco. owned more than $1 million worth of stocks and bonds in Hallihurton, the parent company of Brown & Root. the nation's largest nonunion construction company.

The more things change . . .

By 8:30 a.m. activity in the Sheraton Carlton restaurant has slowed. Angelo Fosco squeezes the check between his uncalloused fingers and casually lifts it off the silver tray. He lifts his weight from the table with both hands and, almost reluctantly, rises. Together, he and his men walk slowly next door to the union headquarters. In a few moments he will sit behind his desk and begin listening to the business of the union: the disorganization, the decreasing membership, the organizing failures, the victories by the nonunion contractors whose share of the construction industry has tripled since the Foscos took over the union, the word of grand jury investigations, the deals made and unmade....

Two hundred miles to the north, Wakil Abdunafi is hunched over a typewriter after another day without work. Already, two closets in his cramped public housing apartment are filled with copies of letters to public officials that have gone unheeded. After six years he is still unable to successfully vent his frustration. But he cannot stop the flow of words.

Five thousand miles away, in Alaska, Chris White has returned from another meeting. For the third time in a week he has listened as workers form their complaints into words and, later, into anger. For the third time in a week he has slammed his ham-sized fist on the table and said: "It's our union and we want it back."

Ed Barnes is a free-lance reporter who specializes in covering organized crime; he is a contributing editor of New Jersey Monthly magazine. His work has also appeared in The Village Voice, The Washington Post and elsewhere.

Bob Windrem is the son and grandson of members of the Laborers Union. Currently a staff writer for The American Lawyer, he has won six state and national journalism awards.

This story was prepared with a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.


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