George Kourkounakis knows union violence when he sees it. He’s counting on a U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y. to deal with the problem so he can run his business in peace. Kourkounakis is general manager of Asbestos & Lead Removal Corporation, a nonunion construction firm in neighboring Queens. For some three years, he stated in a recent lawsuit, members of Local 78 of the Laborers International Union of North America have conducted a campaign of harassment and terror against him and his employees. What’s more, Kourkounakis is going further than alleging assaults and property destruction; he’s requesting that the court dissolve the local and the international union. Officials of Local 78, which represents some 3,000 hazardous-material removal workers in New York City and Long Island, reply that the accusations are products of a fertile imagination.
The Laborers have a long and indisputable legacy of corrupt and aggressive behavior. Nonunion construction firms, especially in non-Right to Work states, are frequent targets of the union’s hardball and often illegal tactics. And Asbestos & Lead Removal Corp. appears to be in the Laborers’ crosshairs. Kourkounakis alleges that starting about three years ago, members of Local 78 have conducted a continuous reign of terror. They’ve thrown bricks through his home windows, left threatening phone messages, and vandalized his car and cars of his employees. Additionally, his complaint states, union thugs have sabotaged job sites in order to create safety “violations” ready for discovery by City inspectors, on one occasion littering a site with asbestos roofing material so as to induce fines. This past October a union member reportedly struck Mr. Kourkounakis with a billy club, breaking his hand. This doesn’t seem to be the product of a fanciful imagination, given the record of such notorious LIUNA affiliates as Local 91 in Niagara Falls, N.Y., as reported in these pages over the last several years.
Edison Severino, business manager of Local 78, however, thinks the allegations against him and 11 unnamed union members are fanciful. “I’ve known this guy for years. A real character,” he said of Kourkounakis. “He has a pretty colorful imagination.” While he admits to attempting to organize the contractor’s workers, he claims the union does not “use scare tactics,” and stays within the law. If anything, claims Severino, Kourkounakis is the wrongdoer, on one occasion wrapping a hairbrush in his jacket and pointing it at Severino as though it were a gun. But even if that claim is true, the charges against the union appear too weighty to have been made up. LIUNA for decades has had a reputation as a union that doesn’t like taking “no” for an answer, the law be damned. (New York Sun, 11/10/06).