November 16, 2011
Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 183 in Toronto in turmoil after election
The construction industry’s largest union is once again being rocked by internal fighting and lawsuits.
Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 183 is no stranger to controversy. The heart of the conflict this time, again, seems to be the struggle for control of the massive local by the Hamilton-based Canadian head office and counter claims of misappropriation of millions of dollars in union funds.
It’s the same issue which led to the ouster of former Local 183 business manager Tony Dionisio, in 2007, after a protracted legal battle which dragged on at the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) and has raged since 2004. Ironically, Local 183 has also been forced to pay millions in severance to between 50 and 75 staffers fired because they formed a union with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 2.
The latest turmoil comes from the election of a new slate of executives last summer and the ouster of the slate led by Durval Terceira and Daniel Avero, who had replaced Dionisio and were considered loyal to the national office in Hamilton.
Within days of taking office the new directors, led by new business manager Jack Oliveira, filed a lawsuit against the old slate alleging they made an unauthorized deal to pay off Dionisio and two others, demanding restitution plus $1 million in damages just days before the election was held.
For his part Dionisio is not talking: “I’m retired now. I sell building supplies. I’m not involved in any of this.”
Terceira and Avero say in statements online that opposition to their leadership grew louder almost from the moment they were elected and that the same private investigation firm hired to look into claims against Dionisio was hired in 2009 to probe allegations of fraud and misappropriation of funds.
This brought a response from Terceira and Avero on their re-election website, www.durvalanddanny.com: “As you are aware, since Ron Pink (the investigator) formally commenced his so-called investigation into Local 183 in April of 2009, Local 183’s leadership has repeatedly said that his investigation was a sham. We said that the investigation was a politically motivated conspiracy of Pink, Joe Mancinelli, Cosmo Manella and Jack Oliveira designed to remove Local 183’s elected leadership and place it under Mancinelli’s control — either directly through a trusteeship or indirectly through the election of Jack Oliveira.”
Another website, selling-local183.com, maintained a litany of allegations against Durval and Avero.
A source familiar with the machinations told the Daily Commercial News the payouts complained of by Oliveira and the foundation for this summer’s law suit were related to severance packages and an indemnity for a previous libel action and not related to legal fees from previous OLRB actions.
“They were looking at going to trial and they were going to have to pay the severances and higher costs,” the source maintains. “It was just coincidence that the settlement came before the election.”
Both Oliveira and Joseph Mancinelli, LIUNA international vice president and central and eastern Canada regional manager refused interviews. However, through Jim Warren (former Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. vice-president) hired as a media consultant, they responded to DCN in a letter.
Oliveira said, in the letter, the new slate has been working to “replace the previous administration with one that is completely transparent and 100 per cent accountable to the membership.” To that end, he wrote, several changes and upgrades have already been put in place around health and dental benefits, the hiring of a new CFO and a labour board certified General Counsel.
Oliveira and Mancinelli’s interests, however, appear aligned. The Daily Commercial News has obtained a letter from Mancinelli dated June 14 this year in which he reassures Oliveira’s slate representative “that the charges against Terceira/Avero and others have not been dropped and the case at the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) has not been concluded or terminated.”
The letter was apparently written in response to a posting on the durvalanddanny.com site which claimed that on June 13, 2011 the LIUNA general executive board, “...has announced that the Ethical Practices Code as we know it will be scrapped. As for Ron Pink, not only has he been thrown out of office but the position that he held and abused (the SCC) has been abolished. His reign is over.”
Further complicating the claims and counter claims, was the firing of between 50 and 75 employees of Local 183 on the grounds that they had campaigned on behalf of the losing slate. Anticipating the fallout from the bitterly contested election the staffers had been organized into a union by the SEIU. Oliveira claimed SEIU interfered with Local 183 elections, in collusion with the ousted slate of directors, and that the certification was a raid because employees were already Local 183 members.
SEIU Local 2 president Cam Nelson said the allegations were absurd: “We represent CAW office workers and our employees are represented by the Teamsters. It’s not unusual to have a different union represent office employees. We showed up to ratify the certification and found 60 large men blocking our way and when the police couldn’t guarantee our safety we had to move to another location.”
He said the certification drive was brought on because LIUNA operates under a patronage system wherein employees have to pick sides and campaign for a slate. Faced with wrongful dismissal actions and the wrath of labour laws, Local 183 had to buyout the staff at a cost of up to $12 million. Both sides have signed a settlement and have pledged to work together on their common cause of unionizing and protecting office cleaners. Ironically five of the ousted directors have claims at the OLRB for unfair labour practices against both LIUNA 183 and SEIU Local 2.
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