Profile of Mafia's "Weakening" Power Over Labor Unions

Avellino hedged his bets; he asked Luchese underboss Anthony "Gas Pipe" Casso for permission to murder Kubecka, who, Avellino feared, could serve up tasty new evidence
Sal Avellino ran the Luchese family's  interests in carting
on Long Island. He ordered a shameful double killing.
Organized labor is no longer the cash cow it once was for organized crime. 

That was the apparent thrust of a recent report that noted the mob's infiltration of unions in the U.S. started to steadily weaken in the 1980s when then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani took aggressive measures, putting away many of the mob's legendary bosses, creating opportunities for a whole new generation of wiseguys to move up. As history shows, many weren't up to the task. But considering law  enforcement's evolution in terms of investigating organized crime, it may not have mattered who was in charge.

The WSJ article offered two reasons for the cause of the Mafia's decline on the union front: the 1986 Commission Case, during which defendants were charged with membership in the Concrete Club, followed in 1990 by the so-called Windows case.

The WSJ article, however, failed to note, or conveniently overlooked, a couple of things: namely two recent busts regarding a total of three mob families in control of two unions, one in private sanitation, the other concrete.

Yep. Apparently when Giuliani ended the Concrete Club, one of the bosses didn't get the message, even though he is serving life sentences because of it.

In the more recent case 32 mobsters and associates affiliated with both the Genovese and Gambino crime families were indicted about a year ago following a multi-year FBI probe into the mob's control of the private sanitation industry in New York and New Jersey. This was recently referred to in all those stories about Anthony Cardinalle, the longtime Genovese associate and fan of The Sopranos, known as "Tony Lodi." He owned, off the books, the New Jersey strip club that served as the Bada Bing, where Tony held court on HBO's since-completed The Sopranos series.

"Tony Lodi," who has been a turncoat for months, is allegedly one of nine members of a three-family panel said to have been in control of private garbage collection routes. In addition to the Genovese family, the Gambinos and Lucheses also were involved in the racket.

The other bust was much bigger and was sparked by what is usually referred to as "Mafia Take-down Day," when all those gangsters were rounded up in predawn raids in January 2011 all over the Northeast. It was later revealed that 101 mobsters and associates had been charged with racketeering crimes related to the Colombo family's ongoing control of Local 6A of the New York Cement and Concrete Workers. That's about the same number of mobsters and associates actually arrested on Mafia Take-down Day.

Yes, 25 years after the historic Commission Case, which proved the existence of the Concrete Club, mobsters were still running one of the same unions, at least that we know about. Colombo boss Carmine "Junior" Persico, imprisoned for life following the Commission Case, was still the ultimate power behind Local 6A, the special counsel for the Laborers’ International Union of North America revealed.

Charley Lucky earned $12 million in
one year as a bootlegger. That would 
be about $165 million in today's dollars.
Persico controlled the union through several underlings over the years, including onetime “street boss” Thomas "Tommy Shots" Gioeli, currently incarcerated, and capo Dino "Big Dino" Calabro, who has been cooperating with the feds. Numerous Colombo wiseguys gave friends, family members, and cohorts with other crime families no-show jobs.

As recently as last October, it was reported that while one defendant, Ralph Scopo Jr., 63, had died, "wiseguy after wiseguy pleaded guilty to charges in more than a dozen separate indictments in New York."

It's quite a stretch to allege the Mafia's corruption of unions began waning back in the mid-1980s, with busts like these happening in the past few years. And who knows how many other crimes/potential investigations are taking place right now that could eventually lead to new revelations and indictments related to mob-domination of big labor, which was dealt a big blow in the South when workers at the Chattanooga, Tennessee, VW plant voted not to unionize. That decision was quite jarring to many people, and one has to wonder...

Owing to the above cases, and whatever else may be going on, the WSJ article added the usual provisos, including the fact that even though "some unions were definitely cleaned up, other unions weren't completely clean and other unions… were cleaned up but have been infiltrated again," said Richard Frankel, special agent in charge of the Criminal Division for the Federal Bureau of Investigation's New York office.

But it's shoddy reporting to not even mention these busts, whatever the reason, be it tunnel vision or the need to write a news story as per a more-senior editor's specs. It happens in newsrooms.

The Mafia and unions once went together like mortadella and provolone; New York's five families' involvement in unions likely preceded Prohibition, the outlawing of the production and sale (not, however, the consumption) of alcoholic beverages, which came to an end in December 1933, when the Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution repealed the Eighteenth Amendment.

The long dry spell—which lasted some 13 years—was over, and while tens of thousands of people spontaneously poured into Times Square to celebrate the end of the Noble Experiment (it took nearly New York City's entire police force, some 20,000 officers, to enforce crowd control), the Mafia was stretching its scheming muscles by creating new rackets, ramping up its focus on others, or assuming control of existing ones from other ethnic crime groups, mostly Jewish and Irish gangsters, which sometimes were allowed to profit as a subsidiary.

It's difficult to imagine the "cosmic change," as Selwyn Raab describes it, that faced the Mafia when Prohibition ended. Charles "Lucky" Luciano for one, reportedly told film producer Martin Gosch, the man who helped write the infamous gangland boss's controversial memoir published in 1975, that in a single one of those 13 dry years, he himself had earned a tidy $12 million (or $164.5 million in today's dollars). A lifetime fortune, both then and now, I'd say.

Initially, organized crime had mainly limited itself to simple rackets. (The word "racket," as used in this manner, is a U.S. invention, probably coined by a newspaper reporter to refer to the "new breed" of mobster that arrived in the 1930s. As Sammy Bullshit famously said: to be a successful Mafioso, one has to be both a "gangster and a racketeer," meaning one has to have the ability to be a strong-arm, stony-eyed killer, as well as the creative abilities and mindset of a businessman/entrepreneur.)

By simple, I mean they played both sides of the fence as hired muscle. Management needed to end a union strike? They'd hire local mobsters to crack the heads pf picketing workers. When the unions needed muscle to battle management's goons, they'd hire the same gangsters to ballbat the other team's heads.

Following Prohibition, though, the mob earned more from controlling union locals than it did as bootleggers during Prohibition. Union rackets have been operating for many decades, with a spectrum of rackets put into play from granular scams to the rigging of entire industries.

'Everyone who has seen the film "Casino," knows that the mob financed the Tangiers (really the Stardust, long gone from the Las Vegas strip) with money from the Teamsters pension fund.

We also know that Alicia DiMichele pleaded guilty to extorting $40,000 from the pension fund of Local 282 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT).

Alicia DiMichele
But stealing from the pension fund is only one way to milk a union. Like a restaurant or any other business, there are many ways the mob can capitalize on an asset it has seized. In fact, it has been alleged that the basic framework of a union, with elections, etc., makes it the perfect racket for the mob.

So what does the mob do when it "owns" a union? Jerry Capeci has written that, for the mob, controlling a union local is "like having your own little goldmine." A mobster (or associate) can appoint himself president of a local, earning a nice salary, and he can enhance his own power because he can distribute lots of jobs. He can appoint friends to serve on the administration, all earning handsome paychecks. He would have an office to fill (receptionists, secretaries, etc.). These prized jobs typically went to family members.

Our mob boss/union president can distribute other kinds of jobs to friends: "no-show jobs," meaning the guy just shows up to collect his paycheck (that is, if it's not being mailed to him); and "no-work jobs," meaning the guy has to be there, physically on the premises whenever he is supposed to be working; hence, those many Sopranos scenes in which the fellas are sitting on lawn chairs fanning themselves in the hot summer New Jersey sun right beside a busy construction site. Maybe they'd play cards, eat pizza. (Obviously, no-show jobs were preferred.)

Of course, our mob boss would need to hire a firm to clean the office, and another one to cut the lawn and plow the snow. Contracts would be given to say, cousin Joe, the landscaper. Whoever got the job, the mobster in charge would get a fat envelope in return for hiring the firm.

Consider the fringe benefits: leased cars from dealers who'd show their appreciation for the leasing agreements; expense accounts for nonexistent expenses. The rackets that can be spun from a union are only limited by the mobster's imagination.

That's all the small-time stuff, too. There are much larger rackets to be woven.

A mobster could use the union to scare the hell out of CEOs of companies using non-unionized-labor. A Teamster organizer shows up at some regional trucking outfit and the guy running it will be close to cardiac arrest. He could be saving close to a million a year in salaries and benefits by not having a union. So what would, say, a $75,000 a year under-the-table payoff be compared to the "threat" of unionization? Why, the CEO would probably hug and kiss the wiseguy (which is probably how they came to earn that particular nickname; I don't believe they like to be called Goodfellas, though. As one told me: "Hey, I am not a figment of Nick Pileggi's imagination." (Pileggi is the author of the books on which the films Goodfellas and Casino were based.)

And if a shop is unionized, a wiseguy can move into the president's office, offer management a sweetheart deal that screws the union members, pocketing a nice payoff. Any situation conceivable can produce a profit motive; it's only a matter of finding it.

When the mob owns companies that belong to the union that it also controls, it's only a hop, skip and a jump before the mob can dominate entire industries. One notable example: mob trucking firms eventually dominated transportation in the garment industry of New York City.

At one point, around 1970, the mob dominated unions wherever there was a Mafia family; that's a lot of cities and towns, all over the U.S.

Overall, the mob dominated, in one form or another, four major unions: The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT); the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), for construction workers; the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE), and the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA), for maritime workers.

So much money was at stake, the mob often had to make life-and-death decisions. In fact, one of the most mysterious murders of the 20th century was the result of the mob protecting its union interests: Who killed James R. Hoffa? (Well, he disappeared, forever, in 1975; I don't think he's stashed in someone's attic.)

In fact, three powerful union chiefs "disappeared" in the 1970s. A fourth, John O'Connor, a name that should be familiar to many who watch all those John Gotti documentaries, was a business agent for Local 608 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners in New York. In the 1980s, he was shot in the ass as per the orders of Gambino chieftain John Gotti. This was after O'Connor had first ordered the trashing of a certain restaurant built with non-union labor. On a cold night in February 1986, some $30,000 worth of damage was done to the Bankers and Brokers Restaurant in Battery Park City. Did I mention it was owned by a Gambino member? Gotti went to trial for this; O'Connor testified but said nothing. He certainly didn't incriminate anyone. This was one of those trials Gotti fixed and won, earning a new nickname: the Dapper Don became the Teflon Don.

So tightly interwoven are mobsters and unions that while some mobsters earn a fortune pretending to be union bosses, some union officials pretend to be mobsters. If history has shown us anything, it's that corruption is contagious.

The flipside is tragedy. One of the most shameful episode's in Cosa Nostra history pertained to the mob's domination of the carting industry on Long Island.

Robert Kubecka
Late in 1977, Robert Kubecka, who had a degree in management and a masters in environmental engineering, inherited the family business: a small private carting business on Long Island founded by his father.

The operation started when Jerry Kubecka, Robert's father, moved to the small town of Northport, on Long Island, which is just off State Highway 10, a few miles northeast of Huntington. Jerry purchased an old fertilizer truck and for a dollar a week he carted to the dumps rubbish from households and businesses in the area. He branched out and the business grew, to the extent that he'd been under pressure to join the local union controlled by the area crime boss. In this case, Local 813, the union that represented garbage truck workers, which was then run by a mob-connected secretary-treasurer who took orders from heavyweight Gambino capo James "Jimmy Brown" Failla. The Lucheses also shared in the union local, and it seems the Kubecka "problem" fell under their purview.

Jerry stood up to the mob; he suffered continual harassment. He spoke openly to the law and told at least one reporter about his troubles in depth, which his son had agreed to take on. Robert knew what he was getting into; his own father wasn't about to trick him, as did Robert's partner his brother-in-law, Donald Barstow, with whom he was good friends.

Donald Barstow
At this time, the private carting industry picked up around three-fourths of Long Island's garbage and had been formed into a "trade group," the Melville, New York-based Private Sanitation Industry, Inc.Despite outward appearances, it was a mob creature designed to suppress competition, punish operators who needed punishing, bid-rigging, etc.

The honestly-run Kubecka business was serving as an example for other private carters who might have second thoughts about getting in bed with mobsters.

So, the low-level intimidation suffered by Jerry was passed on to Robert and Donald. It steadily grew and worsened. The two men refused to back down and started working with New York State's OCTF (Organized Crime Task Force). Based mostly on Kubecka's secret testimony, several high-level Lucheses involvined in the carting industry, including capo Salvatore Avellino and boss Anthony "Tony Ducks" Corallo, were indicted.

In 1986, facing evidence from a bug planted in the Jaguar in which he drove Tony Ducks around discussing mob business, Avellino pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges for using coercion to prevent Kubecka from bidding on waste hauling contracts on Long Island.

However, later that year Avellino hedged his bets; he asked Luchese underboss Anthony "Gas Pipe" Casso for permission to murder Kubecka, who, Avellino feared, could serve up tasty new evidence in new criminal and civil cases. Casso gave the nod.

Allegedly on August 11, 1989, Luchese gunmen Rocco Vitulli and Frank "Frankie the Pearl" Federico burst into Kubecka's office, where he and Barstow were working. Both men were shot to death.

On April 13, 1993, Avellino was indicted in federal court on racketeering charges involving the 1989 Kubecka and Barstow murders. Avellino first pleaded not guilty to both charges, then, in February 1994, he agreed to helping plan the two murders and was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.

On July 16, 1999, Avellino was indicted again in federal court on 15 counts of racketeering in the waste hauling industry from 1983 to 1998. In March 2001, Avellino pleaded guilty to using threats of violence to run his Long Island waste hauling business from federal prison. As part of a plea deal, Avellino was to serve five more years in prison after the end of his racketeering sentence. On October 13, 2006, Avellino was released from federal prison.

In 2009, Jerry Capeci reported that the aged Luchese capo had retired.

Barstow and Kubecka, honest men who stood up to Mafia pressure in ways few others rarely would even consider, let alone dare, are still dead.

According to the report, the Luchese and Genovese families remain the most active at infiltrating and exploiting unions.


  1. I think the mob's grip on unions has weakened, because unions as a whole across this country have been weakened by government policy and the fact that so much
    industry has gone from America. Take a look a Detroit, Ohio and areas across Pennsylvania. It's a different country now.
    Old School-Anonymous

  2. Anybody that thinks LCN doesn't mess the "little guy" needs to read about their grip on unions.


Post a Comment