When it comes to labor violence, there are very few coincidences, especially in the Laborers International Union of North America. The gunfire that punctured the Niagara Falls, N.Y. home of Charles Congi Sr. seemed no random act. WIVB-TV in Buffalo had just broadcast a two-part series on the long pattern of extortion, assaults and sabotage instigated by the old leadership of Niagara Falls’ Laborers Local 91 against contractors and nonunion workers. That years-long reign of terror, extensively chronicled in Union Corruption Update, ended abruptly in a predawn raid in May 2002, when federal agents arrested more than a dozen union officials, members and associates, including Congi’s son, Mark, nominally the local president. Mark Congi is now doing a 15-year sentence in federal prison. He’s in good company with other union members who pleaded guilty, though they received shorter sentences. Is this a sign of a coming full-scale labor war? One dreads to think as much.
The elder, Congi, himself a former Local 91 member, told police that a gunshot hit his house on Tuesday, January 30, about 11:30 PM, followed by two more shots several hours later around 3:45 AM. Niagara Falls Police Superintendent John Chella said investigators had no suspects yet. The local’s business manager, Rob Connolly, insisted that the current union leadership had no reason to be involved in the attacks, but noted that some other people out there do. “I think someone is trying to put the heat on us,” he said. “We brought this union out of the darkness and are succeeding, but people with a loyalty to the past are trying to give us a black eye.” Congi Sr. said he hasn’t spoken to his son since 1983, when the union’s former business manager, the late Michael “Butch” Quarcini, forbade union members from contacting him. That directive was in retaliation for Congi Sr. suing the union for back pay after becoming disabled at a work site. “You did what Butch told you or you were out,” he said. “Mark’s kind of hard-headed. Maybe he should have talked to me.”
Mark Congi may be hard-headed, but he carried a heavy heart during the years of mayhem. He unburdened himself in a lengthy letter to U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara, a large portion of which was excerpted in the December 27, 2006 Niagara Falls Reporter. Congi’s letter was a contrite, gut-wrenching confession, explaining in detail how he evolved from a kid growing up in a welfare home to a seemingly self-made union man getting respect from all those who addressed him. His story ought to leave no doubt, if any still remains, that Butch Quarcini, who died of natural causes in 2003, called all the shots. In a dictatorship, fear is the governing principle. And Quarcini, with powerful political connections in New York State and Washington, for decades knew how to make fear work to his advantage. One answered to him and nobody else. Congi’s letter serves notice once more that union corruption often is high drama – the stuff of novels and films. Too often, the main characters, thinking themselves above the law, get burned, but learn next to nothing. Mark Congi, at least, acquired genuine wisdom after his downfall. (Associated Press, 2/1/07; Niagara Falls Reporter, 12/27/06).