Canadian Construction War

By Laura Portiss

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 apprenticeship.

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.

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