By JOHN E. MULLIGAN
Journal-Bulletin Washington Bureau
June 6, 1996
House Speaker Newt Gingrich said yesterday that Republicans will
convene investigative hearings into labor corruption, centering
on the case of the Laborers' International Union of North America,
run by Rhode Islander Arthur A. Coia.
Gingrich said the GOP decision to probe the
Laborers stemmed largely from the government's 212-page draft
racketeering suit against the union. He also cited the Journal-Bulletin's
accounts of how the union avoided a full-scale government takeover
last year and how Coia kept his job.
The Republican investigation follows the
AFL-CIO's special convention here in April to endorse President
Clinton for reelection and launch a $35 million voter-education
project fueled by members' dues.
That program has begun to target the congressional
districts of potentially vulnerable Republicans and is the core
of organized labor's drive to help Democrats seize back the House
majority they lost in 1994.
Gingrich said in an interview after yesterday's
news conference that the hearings will focus "on the whole
question of how the Clinton administration deals with unions where
there are serious problems of corruption and organized crime."
He said the investigation will zero in on
the Justice Department's campaign to purge the Laborers of longstanding
Mafia influence. "The public has the right to know why
(Coia) is still in charge of the union," which prosecutors
had earlier "claimed that he was running on behalf of organized
crime," Gingrich said.
The Providence-born Coia, general president
of the 750,000-member organization of construction laborers, waste
haulers and municipal workers, has denied any wrongdoing.
Gingrich called yesterday's news conference
to unveil "worker right-to-know" legislation that would
require unions to make a more detailed public accounting of what
he called "coerced" political campaign spending. "I think this has been, frankly, brought
to the forefront by the decision by the Washington union bosses
to impose a $35 million program on their membership," he
But Gingrich devoted most of his remarks
to the topic of corruption and the Laborers.
Coia and his union, which was linked to the
Mafia by the 1986 report of the President's Commission on Organized
Crime, were the targets of the draft racketeering complaint in
November 1994. The Justice Department sought a court-supervised
takeover of the Laborers and the ouster of Coia and other leaders.
The document said the union was dominated
"at all levels" by organized crime. It also accused
Coia of conspiring with the Buffalo Mafia to pilfer union funds
from upstate New York locals, stealing from New England benefit
funds and tolerating mob influence.
After three months of hard-fought, secret
negotiations, Coia secured an agreement with the Justice Department
in February 1995 that permits the union to conduct its own in-house
purge of mob corruption. Former federal prosecutors and FBI agents
are running the cleanup; Coia remains the union's top official.
The government has the right to take over the union if it is not
satisfied with the internal cleansing.
Since becoming union president, in 1993,
Coia has become a prominent backer of President Clinton and a
leading Democratic fund-raiser, a fact that has aroused Republican
suspicion. Last year, for example, the Laborers' $212,500
contribution made it number one among union contributors of "soft
money" to the Democratic Party, a form of campaign largess
that permits virtually unlimited contributions.
Earlier this month, Coia himself was a vice
chairman of a black-tie gala in Washington that raised more than
$12 million for the party and featured Mr. Clinton as its dinner
speaker. Justice Department spokesman Carl Stern has
suggested that politics are motivating the Republican investigation.
Stern said the Laborers-Justice agreement "is almost universally
regarded as the most potent and potentially effective cleanup
effort undertaken by the Justice Department since such efforts
began under Robert Kennedy 30 years ago."
AFL-CIO president John J. Sweeney was quoted
by a spokesman as saying that "the Republicans have dredged
up an old laundry list as a sideshow to distract public attention
from the attacks that Gingirch is leading against working families."
Similarly, House Democratic Whip David Bonior,
D-Mich., several days ago said, "We are seeing a revitalized
union movement in this country" that has Gingrich and his
allies "in a panic because their extremist agenda is falling
Gingrich gave no timetable for hearings but
said they will be held by the crime subcommittee of the Judiciary
Committee, led by Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla. House Republican Conference Chairman John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said hearings are slated for this summer,
possibly late July.
Bert Rohrer, a spokesman for the Laborers,
said last week that House labor corruption "hearings would
be perhaps the biggest waste of time and money to date."
Copyright © 1996 The Providence