D’Alimonte, John (aka Big John)

John D’Alimonte speaking at a concrete formers union meeting. Photo by Leo Harrsison, September 3, 1969. Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, York University Libraries, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC52111.

Year of birth: 1932
Place of birth: ?, Italy
Arrival in Canada: ?
Affiliations: Di Lorenzo Construction; Wood and Metal Lathers’ International Union Local 562; Canadian Forming Workers Union Local 1; Council of Forming Trade Unions.


Not much is known about John D’Alimonte’s early life, except that he was an immigrant from Italy. In the 1960s, he was a crane operator working in Nick Di Lorenzo’s concrete forming company. By then, metropolitan Toronto was experiencing a high rise apartment building boom, aided by cheaper construction techniques and materials such as concrete flying form. In the residential sector, Di Lorenzo was the dominant contractor. Besides importing the flying-form technique from Europe and the tall cranes that made it possible, Di Lorenzo’s cost-cutting innovations included the creation of “teamwork.” In these work gangs, about a dozen men worked together over the duration of a project, doing all of the tasks involved in concrete forming; none of which required a fully trained craftsmen. This “teamwork” cut labour costs significantly since it replaced five different types of skilled unionized workers, previously hired to do individual tasks. This was directly opposed to the segmented way in which the construction labour market and unions operated, with jurisdictional boundaries defined by craft. Another reason why Di Lorenzo was able to corner the new concrete forming field was his aggressive outbidding and bullying of competitors, which he was able to do by keeping wages low. His companies employed around 60% of all forming workers, many of whom were paid less than $1 an hour. The working conditions in Di Lorenzo’s projects were appalling even by the standards of the time. Accidents were a daily occurrence, some resulting in deaths – from 1958 until 1929, at least twenty-seven people lost their lives in apartment building construction projects in Metro Toronto, of which at least five were employed by Di Lorenzo. Keeping unions out of his companies was essential to Di Lorenzo’s business model. Besides deploying legal techniques, like changing his companies’ names so to make them difficult to certify, Di Lorenzo’s union-busting and business competition allegedly involved violent tactics, enforced by the private investigator Norman Menezes. Some of Menezes’ tasks involved threatening business competitors and union organizers, damaging their construction projects, and identifying union-friendly workers in Di Lorenzo’s companies. Altogether, concrete forming contractors would employ the largest number of workers out of all trades: about 3,000 men, most of them Italian immigrants.

Apartment boom-Flying formUnions had a difficult time organizing Di Lorenzo’s companies not just because of his aggressive union-busting tactics, but because of the jurisdictional juxtaposition inherent in concrete forming work. To overcome this barrier, in 1965, five international union locals of the Toronto Building Trades Council – the Carpenters, Cement Masons, Iron Workers, Laborers, and Operating Engineers – created the multi-craft Council of Forming Trade Unions (CFTU). Under this alliance, each of the five unions could sign up members regardless of their trade. The CFTU had some success organizing concrete forming workers, until another rival union group appeared in 1968. That year, the Italian newcomer Gus Simone, leader of the small Wood and Metal Lathers’ International Union’s Local 562, launched his own concrete forming union drive. Despite the fact that there was no lathing in concrete forming, and therefore no jurisdiction for Local 562, Simone was able to create a concrete forming division within his local under Canadian law – outside of North American trade union conventions and Washington’s rules.

While Simone negotiated with the contractors, his business agent and now veteran organizer Bruno Zanini signed up the workers, which he was able to do with relative ease. Local 562 was more successful than the CFTU in large part due to Zanini’s enduring charisma among the Italian workforce, since he first organized bricklayers in 1957. The biggest hurdle for Simone was Di Lorenzo. Without his signature, it would have been foolish for the smaller contractors to sign a collective agreement that increased their labour costs and expect to outbid their larger competitor. But after multiple discussions with Simone, Di Lorenzo was finally convinced that sooner or later his companies would be unionized and that his best option was to accept Local 562’s offer to organize forming workers as a single trade (as opposed to the CFTU’s five) under an unprecedented five-year agreement that froze wages and guaranteed no strikes. Not only did Di Lorenzo agree, he assigned his public relations officer George Orla and D’Alimonte to organize his company workers into Local 562’s forming division. According to “Big” John, who by then was a company foreman in charge of over seventy cranes, his boss walked into his office while he was meeting with Simone and Zanini and told him: “John, I got another job for you. You’ve got to go out and make me my own union.” D’Alimonte believed that his intimidating 340-pounds was one of the reasons why he was chosen. It took him only half a day to organize the crane operators, to whom he simply said: “you’ll have to join the union or I’ll have to let you go.” He then organized most of the remaining 1,500 forming workers between October 1968 and February 1969. [1]

On November 4, 1968, the purposely-founded Forming Contractors Association, representing nearly all (sub)contractors signed a five-year collective agreement with Simone’s Local 562. A “sweetheart deal” in the eyes of the CFTU and other unions. Only three contractors did not sign; two of them were Di Lorenzo’s main competitors, who opposed his dominance over the newfound association: Leader Structures, co-owned by the Italian Aurelio Bianchini, and Frank Kiri Forming, owned by Kiriakos Vlahos. These two companies signed a contract with the CFTU a few days later. This turn of events upset the CFTU, which pressed charges against Simone’s “sweetheart deal” in the Ontario Labour Relations Board, on the grounds that Local 562 had no jurisdiction over concrete forming. The board agreed and ruled the “sweetheart” agreement illegal. 


After organizing Di Lorenzo’s workers, D’Alimonte returned to his regular work. At one point, Di Lorenzo told him to go to Ottawa for two weeks and repair three cranes at a government project where his company had a subcontract. Once he arrived on the site, he saw that a few wires on each crane had been pulled by a serviceman (presumably a deliberate act of sabotage),  which was an easy problem to fix. Instead of taking three days to fix each crane, as he had been instructed to do, D’Alimonte repaired them in only a few minutes. “I was cold and… my wife wanted to get home to our nine kids,” he later told Judge Harry Waisberg. [2] This decision upset Di Lorenzo, who expressed his disappointment to his foreman upon his return to Toronto. A few months later, after working at a project in London, Ontario, D’Alimonte was laid off. At this point he joined Zanini and became the Vice President of the Concrete Forming Workers Union (CFWU) Local 1. [2]

Zanini’s CFWU was founded in response to a deal made between the Laborers’ International Local 183 and the Lathers Local 562’s concrete forming division. On May 23, 1969, the two unions set up a meeting in Chicago, attended by international unions officers and forming contractors (including Di Lorenzo), where the Laborers offered to take the Lathers’ forming division in return for a $15,000 lump sum payment and the promise of hiring the two Italian organizers. The Forming Contractors Association agreed to this arrangement after the Laborers’ allegedly offered to lend them $2 million. With this takeover, Local 183 asserted its dominance over Toronto’s construction industry. Left out of that arrangement was Zanini, who immediately began telling Local 562’s forming workers that they had been “sold like cattle” in Chicago. On June 1, 1969, he called a meeting at Lansdowne Theatre, where 1,400 workers voted in favour of creating a Canadian union, independent from the Washington-based internationals, which became the CFWU Local 1. The next day, Local 1’s workers walked out of apartment building sites across Metro Toronto, including all of Di Lorenzo’s projects. Two weeks later, the contractors capitulated and agreed to Zanini’s terms at a meeting held at the York Centre Ballroom; including Di Lorenzo, whose companies employed about 1,000 of the local’s 1,700 members. Unlike Simone’s “sweetheart” approach to labour negotiations, Zanini’s confrontational tactics won increases in wages, vacation pay, and benefits over a three-year contract. In response, the Laborers’ Local 183, the CFTU, and the other international unions of the Toronto Building Trades Council launched a campaign to combat the CFWU and win over their forming workers. This included a series of illegal work stoppages against contractors who hired Zanini’s workers.

In August 1969, D’Alimonte left the CFWU and joined the rival CFTU. According to him, a visit from Simone scared him into switching sides out of fear of ending up in jail, presumably for creating a “company union.” D’Alimonte also claimed to have been offered $5,000 to leave Zanini’s union and that his car was set ablaze while it stood on his driveway at night. As he later told Judge Waisberg: “I thought maybe, if I was on their side, I’d be safe.” [3] 

Tensions between the rival unions increased in September, nearly escalating into physical confrontation. One such case happened on September 11, 1969, when 300 CFWU members tried to invade the strike headquarters of the Operating Engineers’ Local 793, located at the York Centre Ballroom. Many of Zanini’s forming workers arrived on two buses provided by Di Lorenzo’s company. For close to two hours, the two sides shouted at each other from across the narrow street, until the crowd dispersed. A week later, the Toronto Building Trades Council reached a deal with six apartment builders: Meridian Property Management, Greenwin Property Management, Cadillac Development Corp., Heatcliffe Development, Belmont Construction, and Goldlist Construction. This agreement, however, failed to eliminate the CFWU, since developers refused to include concrete forming or any of its five associated trades in it.


In the end, Zanini won the concrete forming “unions wars,” as the press describe them. But despite his celebratory statements to the press, the victors of this “warfare” between the “American” and “Canadian” unions were not entirely clear. But Zanini’s relative victory was short-lived, since the Ontario Labour Board’s twice refused to certify the CFWU’s right to bargain for forming workers. Running out of options, Zanini accepted to merge his uncertified union with John Meiorin’s own independent Canadian Union of Construction Workers Local 1, in March 1970. Under Meiorin’s union, Zanini was finally able to bring forming contractors to the bargaining table without having to call a strike. In the Fall of 1970, he was bargaining with Acu-Forming Ltd., one of the largest contractors in Metro Toronto, when a new public attack further damaged his reputation and put an end to those negotiations. The accuser was the controversial former Ontario and Metro Toronto’s Chief Coroner and now Ontario New Democratic Party’s Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Morton Shulman. Speaking at the provincial legislature on October 27, Shulman, who in the past had made controversial accusations without providing evidence, claimed to have learned from a leaked confidential police report that the CFWU was a mob front; a “phony… sweetheart union.” This report resulted from the two-year joint police investigation, which the Ontario Premier John Robarts decided not to release to the public, since some of its contents had not been substantiated. That decision led one disgruntled police officer to leak a copy to Shulman. According to the MPP, Zanini was a Mafia agent whose threat of violence kept Italian workers in line. Shulman also alleged that the CFWU’s strike had been ordered by forming contractors, who planned to used it as leverage to ask more money from developers. “Crooked employers… set up a crooked union to set up a crooked strike, a phony strike,” he added.

The CFWU union struggled financially after this, while its members became increasingly restless. At this point, Zanini’s old ally Charles Irvine came to his aid and offered to take his workers under his new Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons International Union Local 733, and hire the Italian organizer as business agent. The duo held a series of meetings at the Lansdowne Theatre, with disappointing turnouts; especially when compared to the throngs of people that they rallied in the early 1960s. They used these meetings to fire back at their opponents in the Building Trades Council and defend themselves against Shulman’s Mafia accusations. At one of these gatherings, on April 4, 1971, Irvine told the press that the Lathers’ Local 562 leader Gus Simone was the one with ties with organized crime, given his supposed association with the alleged mobster Paul Volpe. Shulman, who was in the audience, told the press that a formal investigation should be called into the concrete forming industry. He was pressured by reporters to provide evidence of his allegations, to which the former coroner admitted to have based his comments on an affidavit sworn by the union-buster Menezes and a written statement signed by D’Alimonte – who was illiterate.

Irvine and Zanini would sign several hundred forming workers into Local 733, which was more than the CFTU had. However, their alleged criminal associations, along with Irvine’s history of illegal walkouts, violent strikes, and push for ever-higher wages, frightened the builders, who were no longer willing to negotiate with them. Then, on July 30, 1971, the Laborers’ Local 183, now led by John Stefanini, decided to split from the CFTU and  organize forming workers on their own. With the help of a group of Italian-Canadian contractors, Local 183 reached an agreement on September 7, 1971, that covered all forming workers in Metro Toronto. Like the Toronto Building Trades Council had done in 1969, Stefanini signed this deal not with the contractors but with five of the largest apartment developers. To draw them in, he offered to lower wages and employer welfare payments. Local 183’s swift victory was confirmed a few months later at a meeting between the Plasterers’ and Laborers’ international executives in New York, where the first agreed to dismantle Irvine’s Local 733 and transfer its workers to Local 183.


In his role as a CFTU organizer, D’Alimonte had enjoyed good relations with the employers, but the workers rejected him. He admitted to have received a $2,000 pay off from Fran-Kiri Forming Ltd. (a rival of Di Lorenzo), which had not been paying into the workers’ welfare fund, as it was supposed to under its collective agreement with the Laborers’ Local 183. In 1970, he resigned after a dispute with the Laborers’ Local 183’s executive, where he told them: “You guys are for the bosses. You are not for the men.” After this, D’Alimonte tried first to open his own business and then to join the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 793, but was refused. [4]

Two years later, in a casual conversation with Zanini, D’Alimonte confessed to have been threatened and bribed to abandon the CFWU Local 1 and join the CFTU back in 1969, and to have been instructed by a lawyer to sign the affidavit that Shulman referred to at the legislature. D’Alimonte told Zanini he was prepared to go public with these revelations and salvage the latter’s reputation. The two men regarded Stefanini’s Local 183 as “a bunch of crooks,” who tended to side with management against their own workers’ interests. After this conversation, Zanini contacted individual Local 183 members and asked them to sign statements corroborating rumours that they had been cheated by their own union, in the hope of springing another government inquiry and eventually open the door for his independent Canadian union to return. He then called a public meeting on September 4, 1972, where D’Alimonte was to share his story with the world.

Before that could happen, on August 23, two men shot Zanini in the leg in the underground parking garage of his Toronto social housing apartment building in Weston. The press gave extensive coverage to this incident. When interviewed by the police on his bedside at the Humber Memorial Hospital, Zanini speculated that this had been the work of “paid professionals” hired by the builders, who wanted to prevent another government inquiry and make him stop “probing” the apartment building industry. [5] Zanini’s shooting happened at the same time that the offices of subcontracting lathing companies were being hit by another string of bomb explosions and shootings, between July and SeptemberFollowing these incidents, on December 5, 1972, Shulman again stood at the legislature and pointed the finger at organized crime, as well as to the Ontario Progressive Conservative government for enabling the unlawful activity of price-fixing among contractors, especially in the lathing business. This resurgence of violence prompted yet another government inquiry.

On March 28, 1973, the new Ontario Premier Bill Davis appointed Judge Harry Waisberg to lead the Royal Commission on Certain Sectors of the Building Industry, which was to focus on the Mafia’s infiltration in the industry over the previous five years. Waisberg’s two-volume report was published in December 1974, including 13,000 pages of transcribed evidence, and 75 volumes of transcriptions from public hearings with 200 witnesses. Along with the massive report, the inquiry also generated a great many newspaper articles, where the backroom dealings, shady characters, and sometimes criminal and violent nature of metropolitan Toronto’s construction industry were exposed, furthering the public’s misgivings about its unions, contractors, and developers; especially the Italian niche. One of the witnesses was D’Alimonte…

[This section is under construction]


[1] Thomas Claridge. “Boss told him to ‘form me my own union,’ worker says.” The Globe & Mail. January 30, 1974: 5.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] “Zanini says shot was warning to quit probing building trade.” Toronto Star, August 24, 1972: 1.