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Biz Union Black Ops P03: Mobbed Up and Down

Written by Wanda Pasz Sunday, 05 March 2006

The high strangeness of the UFCW's covert raid on the Hotel Employees, Restaurant Employees Union was amplified by their raiding partner's connections and the timing of the operation.

Anyone familiar with the Toronto labour scene in the 1970's and 80's had heard that Jean Guy Belanger was connected. Installed as the head of Local 75 by HERE's Canadian boss James (Jimmy Stamos) in 1976, Belanger quickly became famous for his ties to the underworld.

During the 1980's, his admitted mob connections were turning up with a certain regularity in the local media. By 1983, Belanger, Stamos and their ties to the mob were the subject of a one hour documentary on the CBC's Fifth Estate program.

Unlike some mobbed-up union leaders, Belanger made no secret of his connections.

The most powerful union leader in Metro's hotel industry is partial to double-breasted white suits, the racetrack and Lincoln Continentals.

He also freely admits a 35-year association with a top Montreal Mafia boss.

And Jean-Guy Belanger, president of giant Local 75 of the Hotel and Restaurant and Employees Union, says he'd sit down with Frank (The Big Guy) Cotroni anytime, if asked.

There's more to Local 75's rough-tough image than jokes and a B-movie wardrobe. Confidential police reports say the 12,000-member union local was under Cotroni control in the early 1980s, along with Local 31 in Montreal and Local 40 in Vancouver.

A police investigation, nicknamed Operation Borgia, broke down Cotroni's myriad of criminal activities into three main sections: drug trafficking, his influence on pro boxing and infiltration of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers International Union in Canada and the U.S.

Belanger traces his career and relationship with Cotroni back 35 years, to when he was hired at 14 as a dishwasher at Montreal's Beret Bleu. The Beret Bleu, now a strip joint, was then a cabaret hotspot that drew the likes of Frank Sinatra on to its stage and was firmly under the control of the Cotroni family.

Metro's Powerful Hotel Union Boss Laughs at Link with Mafia Kingpin, Toronto Star, June 18, 1989

HERE's connections to organized crime were well-documented.

Montreal-based Local 31 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union has the dark distinction of being the only union ever kicked out of the Quebec Federation of Labor for unethical conduct. The union was also noted by a United States Senate committee in the early 1980s as being too close to Frank Cotroni.

Its record is also badly blemished in American gambling centres.

The U.S. Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concluded in 1984 that the Las Vegas and Atlantic City locals of the hotel union were controlled by organized crime.

The Atlantic City local remains under control on a court-appointed monitor after the U.S. Justice Department brought a civil action, charging it was dominated by the Bruno-Scarfo mob family. Edward Hanley, the union's international president, has agreed to isolate himself from the Atlantic City local.

Since Local 31 suffered the disgrace of being kicked out of mainstream Quebec labor, its former president, James Stamos, was elevated to the post of Canadian director of the union and an international vice-president.

In Toronto, former boxer Eddie Melo - a longtime friend of Cotroni - was a onetime organizer for Local 75 of the hotel union. He kept his job, even after being convicted of pulling a gun on a member of a rival union.

Mob's Casino Interests Run Deep, Toronto Star, July 6, 1993

Accounts of Local 75's officials cavorting with made men began turning up in the front pages.

A top Quebec mobster had his hotel bill, drinks, meals and movies billed to a Toronto-based union local, according to a hotel bill obtained by The Star.

A bill from the Delta Chelsea Inn in Toronto shows that Local 75 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union was billed for the $75.79 hotel tab for Claude Faber of Ste. Adele, Que., during a 1981 visit to Metro.

Faber is in jail after pleading guilty to the 1982 Montreal gangland slaying of Claude Menard and to cocaine trafficking.

Faber was identified as the right-hand man to Montreal Mafia boss Frank Cotroni during the Quebec Police Commission inquiry into organized crime in the 1970s.

Mobster's Tab Paid by Union, Toronto Star, December 31, 1989

As did reports linking the union and it's Canadian leader to a well-known American crime family.

The hotel union is the only union ever kicked out of the Quebec Federation of Labor for unethical conduct, amidst charges of close ties to the Cotroni organized crime family in Montreal. The U.S. Justice Department in 1987 declared the Cincinnati-based hotel union as being under the influence of organized crime.

In an earlier interview, Belanger admitted knowing mobster Francesco (Frank) Cotroni for 35 years and having had drinks with him. Belanger also said another top hotel union official bragged that Cotroni was his "godfather."

Police reports studied by The Star probed links among the hotel union, Cotroni (described by the FBI as a long-time member of the Bonanno crime family) and Cotroni's subordinate, Claude Faber.

Cotroni and Faber are now in jail in Quebec for contract murders.

Eddie Melo, a former Local 75 organizer in Metro, and Rexdale official Gerald Jones have both been convicted on weapons offences while working for the union.

Melo, a former professional boxer, acted as Cotroni's bodyguard when Cotroni visited Metro. Melo has since left the union.

Police reports studied by The Star say Frank Cotroni and Faber made frequent trips to Metro in the early 1980's on union business.

Police concluded: "It is this investigator's opinion that Francesco Cotroni utilizes the hotel union to exercise influence on the management of the businesses. This influence is directed toward the contracts of these establishments in the areas of vending machines, sugar, plastic utilities, strippers, linen commodities, etc. Cotroni, through other persons, subsequently establishes legitimate businesses to service these commodities."

Fight Brewing As Steelworkers Try To Absorb Restaurant Union, Toronto Star, November 23, 1989

Leaders of other unions abandoned the code of silence that mandates tolerance of pretty much any wrongdoing by their labour movement counterparts and began publicly criticizing the Local and its leader.

Excerpts from a June 18, 1989 Toronto Star report entitled "Labor Dumps on Belanger's Union" contained the following harsh assessments:

"To me, it's just a bloody cesspool; just a complete, bloody mess," - Jess Succamore, national secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Association of Industrial, Mechanical and Allied Workers.

"I had a sense that the membership had little impact on leadership decisions...Their opening offer was less than what we had had as a first position for them. We were quite surprised. What it showed was that they hadn't done much homework on us." - Ontario Federation of Labour President Gord Wilson, recalling a time when, as a negotiator for the UAW, he bargained a contract with Belanger for foodservice workers at a UAW training facility.

"There's not many people in the labor movement that look at them with a high regard...Even when I travel around hotels, I hear (their) members not speaking well of them." - Bob White, President of the Canadian Auto Workers.

"I have never been impressed with Local 75...What that union needs is a good dose of democracy." - Terry Meagher, former secretary-treasurer of the Ontario Federation of Labor and once assistant business agent of Local 280 of Bartenders and Beverage Dispensers, which belong to the same U.S.-based international union as Local 75.

"They don't behave like a legitimate union in the labor movement." - Leo Gerard, Ontario President of the United Steelworkers of America.

Citing Local 75's terrible contracts and mob associations, in 1989 Gerard took the unprecedented step of asking the Canadian Labour Congress to permit the USWA to raid the local's members.

Their leaders have shared trips, drinks and business dealings with contract killers, drug traffickers and thieves.

They work under some of the worst contracts in Canadian labor.

But are things bad enough that workers in the Hotel and Restaurant Employees International Union should be allowed to join other unions?

That's the question being brought before the Canadian Labor Congress by the United Steelworkers of America, one of the most influential unions in Canadian labor.

If the hotel union is found lacking by the labor congress, the Steelworkers stand to gain a potential 12,000 members from Metro-based Local 75 of the hotel union.

Fight Brewing As Steelworkers Try To Absorb Restaurant Union, Toronto Star, November 23, 1989.

With word of his underworld connections in the media and labour leaders of every stripe heaping scorn on him and his Local, the UFCW's decision to hop into the sack with this guy was indeed puzzling. Other developments, made it more puzzling still.

Only a few months earlier, controversial legislation allowing casino gambling in Ontario was passed by the NDP government of Premier Bob Rae. The biz-union-friendly Rae stunned many, including hardcore NDP supporters, with the zeal with which he rammed the casino-enabling law through the legislature, shutting down a heated debate in November 1993 so that the law could pass before the the Legislature recessed for the Christmas holidays.

The tabling of the legislation touched off a storm of protest from citizens, social service agencies and law enforcement officials who warned of the human cost of the move. According to police sources, mafiosi were eagerly anticipating the coming of the casinos and were preparing to get in on the action.

Seven years ago, two Ontario police chiefs warned that organized criminals had already bought land and were stockpiling gaming equipment in anticipation of legalized casino gambling.

"I know that organized criminals have already purchased property in connection with gaming casinos in the province," former Waterloo Regional Police Chief Harold Basse warned the 1986 annual convention of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. "We know there are properties being acquired by associates of organized crime," added Halton Regional Police Chief Jim Harding.

A longtime Cotroni associate in Toronto has impressive holdings in video machines and is bragging that he knows the location of future Ontario casino sites, a police source says.

"Legalization of casino gambling would fuel a renaissance of organized crime," Robert Fuesel, commission executive director said recently.

Even if casino ownership is beyond reproach, criminals can flex their muscle through hotel unions, food and laundry suppliers, and the supply and servicing of vending and gambling machines.

"They can control the casinos just by stopping all the services," said William Holmes, a retired FBI agent who now acts as a gambling security consultant. "If you don't have the services, you don't operate."

Mob's Casino Interests Run Deep, Toronto Star, July 6, 1993

It seemed a most inopportune time to be hanging out with a known Cotroni associate. But Evans and the UFCW didn't seem to care. Having been down on raiding for so long they were suddenly down with it. The fact their their raiding partner was hooked up with a criminal organization that was high on law enforcement radar screens didn't seem to rattle them either. They were either remarkably foolish or unabashedly brazen - or both.

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