Unknown to most Canadians, a war is threatening
the nations residential construction industry and the federal
government is unjustly helping one side achieve victory. "There's
a real war developing for the residential construction
market." says John Pender, of the Construction Council of
Ontario, which serves as an organization contributing to the
longterm growth and profitability of Ontario's construction industry.
Pender also expresses, "What can I say, it's a mess."
When asked what the war is about Pender said "obviously
money and control" Pender added, "One union [LIUNA]
wants to control that work, they collect the dues."
Pender is referring to the hourly rate each
union member pays to their organization while working. Membership
working dues in the construction industry are the highest in the
labour movement. "We are multi-trade that's why we are
calling ourselves the Universal Construction Workers (formerly
known as the Labourers International Union of North America) as
opposed to just labourers." says John Colacci,
Recording Secretary and former Training Administrator for LIUNA
Local 183. Colacci proudly states, "We have more carpenters
than the carpenters union, we have more rodbusters than the ironworkers,
more cement finishers than the cement finishing union, we also
have a masonary wing which has probably more bricklayers than
the masonary union."
Joseph Maloney head of the CBTC, says, "They
[LIUNA] are training people with government funds to do other
peoples jobs. All the labourers are trying to do is to have all
the different trades under their [LIUNA] umbrella
so they can be the one big union representative. We [CBTC] are
aware of it, the other trades are aware of it and the governement
is aware of it but what can you do when the squeaky wheel gets
the grease. " The "grease" Maloney
speaks of is the millions of dollars in taxpayers money awarded
to LIUNA each year.
Each year several federal ministries award
LIUNA with millions of dollars of taxpayers money in the form
of training grants. These grants are provided to assist the Labourers
with the cost of training their members. However, the government
funds are being used to finance LIUNA's side of the war. In some
cases the funding is being used for 6 to 8 week training programs
as training for semi-skilled labourers to do the work of full
skilled trades such as electricans, plumbers, and carpenters.
Trades which normally involve a number of years of training and
LIUNA has several training centres across
Canada, but by far the largest is in Toronto, operated by LIUNA
Local 183, which runs its training programs from January to May
each year. Where LIUNA does not have actual training centres,
the members are either trained in the yard (field) of the local
hiring hall or sent to the nearest training centre.
According to financial statements produced
by one LIUNA local office, the average cost of training each labourer
is estimated at $3850.00 for a six-to-eight week program and is funded by the federal government. The
governement funding should ensure the members have equal opportunity
for training however, in a local of 700 members only 13 select
members are trained annually. Members report the 13 members trained
each year are usually related to the union executives. "One of their [LIUNA] business managers
had to resign and retire immediately because of this money from
the government, and some HRDC [Human Resources Development Centre]
people were fired over it, [and] criminal charges were laid."
says Joseph Maloney, from the Canadian Building Trades Council
(CBTC), an umbrella building trades organization.
Maloney refers to the charges brought against
Eric Ferguson, former HRDC manager. Ferguson entered a guilty
plea to a charge of accepting a secret commission, and was subsequently
charged after recommending LIUNA Local 183 for a 1.6 million dollar
training grant. Tony Dionisio, business manager of Local 183,
and John Colacci, former Local 183 training administrator. were
also charged with offering a secret commission, to Ferguson himself.
After receiving the 1.6 million dollars, Local 183 labourers spent
5 weeks renovating Ferguson's home inside and out. At the time,
Dionisio co-chaired Toronto Mayor Barbara Hall's election campaign.
LIUNA subsequently claimed that $1 million
of the grant was spent on the rental of some 30 computers. However,
a computer company in London, Ontario offered to sell Local 183
the same equipment for approximately $350,000.
Another LIUNA Local received a grant in the
sum $50,000 from the Ministry of Multiculturalism and Citzenship
for the purpose of literacy training. When a trustee of the training
fund inquired into how the grant money was actually spent, LIUNA
countered in saying that all that data was forever lost when one
of their expensive rental computers crashed, hard drive and all.
No back-ups were kept, and no hard copy printouts existed either.
In a related event, a LIUNA Training Fund
trustee claims he was removed from his position after refusing
to sign a fraudulent audit of the fund.
In a complaint drafted under the RICO Act,
the United States Justice Department stated, "LIUNA has been
infiltrated at all levels by corrupt individuals and organized
crime figures who have exploited their control and influence over
the union. LIUNA union officers and employees at all levels, including
the General Presidency have chosen subject to approval of and have been controlled by various members
and associates of organized crime."
More than 80 LIUNA Officals have been convicted
of crimes including racketeering, bribery, extortion, tax evasion
and attempted murder.
How are the Labourers' keeping their monopoly
on governement funds, even after all the abuse ? "They're
[LIUNA] very good lobbyists,they're very effective at what they
are doing." says Maloney [CBTC]
Labourers International Union of North America
(LIUNA) is Canada's largest construction union with more than
50,000 members in Canada. LIUNA's Toronto local, Local 183, with it's more than 20,000 members is the largest
local union in Canada.
But not all of Local 183's members agree
with the tactics used to increase Local 183's membership by 35-
40 % over the past 3 years. The Labourers are encouraging workers
who are already represented by another union within the same industry
to join Local 183; this is termed raiding. "To me raiding
is not part of a trade union practice, [raiding] should not be
practised" says John Stefanini a 39 year member of Local
183, who also served as the leader for more than 20 years.
Stefanini, retired from the Labourers' in
1992 , shortly after implementing a peace treaty between the building
trade unions. Earlier this year Stefanini was attacked outside
his office, by five men who carried out the assault with metal
pipes. Stefanini lost consciousness as a result of the assault
as well as sustaining a broken arm and cuts to his head. Police
continue to investigate the incident.
Last year Stefanini took the position of
Executive Director of the Residential Alliance of Building Trades
Unions. The Alliance was formed in 1997 when 8 of 14 the building
trades unions in the Greater Toronto Area came together in hope
of harmonizing the unions in the industry. LIUNA declined the
Alliance's invitation to be a part of the harmony.
Keith Cooper, Local 183's Legal Cooridinator
commented on the alliance saying, " Here in Toronto a group
of the building trades unions got together and formed what they
call the Residential Alliance of the Building Trades and their
[the Alliance] opening or one of their main reasons was basically
to attack [Local] 183."
Stefanini disagrees with Cooper saying, "We
[the Alliance] are defending ourselves, protecting what we have,
not attacking simply defending." Stefanini added, "They
[LIUNA] are out to represent members who are presently represented
by trade unions who are part of the Alliance" Stefanini added,
" Either you are a part of a family or you are not a part
of a family."
The family Stefanini refers to is the Canadian
Building Trades Council [CBTC] made up of the 14 buiding trades
unions across the nation. Along with the Canadian Labour Congress [CLC], the CBTC disassociated themselves
with LIUNA last year.
Pender stated the Labourers motivation clearly by saying, " It always has been and always will be about money." It's not uncommon for LIUNA to go to great lengths for money and control. In 1995, LIUNA was the subject of a 212 page complaint drafted under the Racketeering, Influence and Corrupt Organizations [RICO] Act. In order to hold off a Teamsters style government takeover, LIUNA agreed to purge it's self of mob influence and activity under the watchful eye of the US Justice Department. US Justice Department
Chief, Paul Coffey, labeled LIUNA General
President, Arthur Coia a "mafia puppet". Even though
the clean-up agreement is considered less than successful by many,
the agreement was renewed for the second time earlier this year.
An Ontario Contractor, speaking anonymously,
said, "People just don't want to take the risk of investing
into projects that may be destroyed because of an inner industry
war." The Inner war is clearly threatening the stability
of the industry, so who benefits from it ?
Some people would consider the government's
blind eye to the Labourers actions justified as a method of saving
money. Others wonder why governement officals turn a blind eye
to on such hazardous actions. Maybe Eric Ferguson
holds the answer within the secret commision he accepted.
The fact remains Local 183 offers electricans
for $25 per hour, whereas fully skilled, trained within government
standards electricans work for $35 per hour. Clearly a monetary
savings, but is the savings worth the cost attached to it, especially
when the cost is a matter of your family safety and the quality
of your home.