Washington Post

 

 

TROUBLED UNION NEEDS A PALACE COUP

 

Jack Anderson

 

Dale Van Atta

Column: JACK ANDERSON

February 13, 1989; Page d12

 

Organized labor has a chance to retire one of its old-school bosses when the board of the Laborers International Union of North America convenes its annual pow-wow this week. LIUNA represents the workers who do some of the most dangerous, tedious and grimy jobs in America, ranging from demolition and excavation to mail-handling and garbage collection.

 

More than tropical breezes will be blowing through the scandal-plagued union when its general executive board meets in Bal Harbour, Fla. Reform-minded labor leaders nationwide are cheering at the possibility of a palace coup that would displace LIUNA's tainted leader, Angelo Fosco, and his unpopular lieutenant, Robert Connerton.

 

Like the aging potentate of a banana republic, LIUNA President Fosco has clung to power too long. Fosco's loathed general counsel, Connerton, has enriched himself as LIUNA's lawyer. Sources close to Fosco consider Connerton the power behind the throne -- or what some in the union cynically call the tail that wags the dog.

 

The inside story is that while Fosco is willing to abdicate, Connerton would find himself out in the cold if his old protector retires.

 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been investigating possible Mafia control of LIUNA for 11 years, according to FBI Director William S. Sessions. In 1986, the President's Commission on Organized Crime spelled out some of LIUNA's seedy exploits. Fosco was indicted in 1981 in a case involving alleged benefit plan swindles; he was later acquitted. Arthur E. Coia, LIUNA's secretary-treasurer, has been indicted and acquitted of racketeering charges involving union benefit funds.

 

The president's commission described the union as having "clear ties to organized crime."

 

We reported last year that one Mail Handlers' Union local in New York City, a division of LIUNA, had begged Sessions to put the local in a federal trusteeship to keep it out of the clutches of organized crime.

 

Labor leaders are increasingly embarrassed over Fosco running LIUNA as though it were a family business. He inherited the job from his father, and now would like to pass it on to one of his two sons.

 

Connerton has spent more than 30 years in Washington as a labor mover and shaker and as chief lobbyist for the union. He is credited with blunting the impact of antiracketeering laws and enforcement.

 

"Connerton needs Fosco to stay," a labor source told us. "He's privately urging Fosco not to do what he has said he wanted to do {retire}." Another source critized Connerton as "someone who has never been elected to anything," yet finds ways to "run the union through his law firm."

 

Connerton raised some eyebrows when he became a millionaire courtesy of LIUNA. In representing mail-handlers in a claim for back pay and overtime, he convinced 90,000 postal workers to let him represent them in a private capacity. Then he negotiated a settlement and took $1 million as his cut -- for representing union members who were already paying his salary with their dues.

 

It's time for Fosco to go, and for Connerton to find himself another client


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