Simone, Agostino (Gus)

Gus Simone addressing a gathering of concrete forming workers at Lansdowne Theatre. Photographer unknown. June 3, 1969.Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC52322.

Year of birth: 1928
Place of birth: Pescara, Italy
Arrival in Canada: 1954
Affiliations: Wood and Metal Lathers International Union’s Local 562

Agostino (Gus) Simone was born in 1928, in Pescara, Abruzzo region, Italy. At age 26, he immigrated to Canada with very little money, a fifth grade education, and little knowledge of English. After learning the lathing trade in Toronto and rising to the position of foreman, Simone decided to move first to Calgary then New York, where he would stay until 1965. When he returned to Toronto, the only lathing work he could find was in the non-unionized apartment building field, where the majority of the 3,000 forming workers were Italian. In his broken English, Simone offered the Wood, Wire, and Metal Lathers’ International Union to organize a residential local. Over the next eight months, he signed contracts with several large lathing companies and increased the workers’ wages by 0.85$ per hour. To appease the Lathers’ commercial local, which was incensed by Simone’s initiative, the union’s office in Washington granted him a charter for Local 562. However, his charter did not limit him to the residential sector. Simone offered cheaper union dues to lathers than their commercial counterpart, which mitigated his proposed $0.50-$0.70 cut to hourly wages, a longer work week, and lower vacation pay for his members. Developers were also pleased with the fact that Simone allowed piecework to continue and for subcontractors to use Local 562’s workers in their commercial projects. Under these “sweetheart” conditions, the controversial unionist was able to sign a contract with the residential Metro Lathing Contractors Association in 1968, making him the sole supplier of his trade for apartment builders. Other union leaders in the conventional Building Trades Council began worrying about Simone, as someone who was excessively friendly towards contractors. In turn, Simone started using his newfound power as a labour broker to enrich himself, either by openly requesting gifts from the employers, or by extorting money from contractors with threats of regular work stoppages or sending lower-quality workers.

In the mid-1960s, a group of lathing sub-contractors decided to informally join forces to protect themselves against the developers’ unethical procurement process, where tenders were unsealed and competing companies were forced to outbid each other in a race-to-the-bottom. Their solution was to form an illegal bidding scheme, where construction contracts were assign randomly among them, which the other sub-contractors were not allowed to outbid. Simone played an essential role as the enforcer of this bidding ring. Each company gave $1,000 to Local 562, which then hired “inspectors” to ensure that the participating sub-contractors played by the rules. If one company got greedy and tried to secure a contract outside the ring, Simone pulled his men from that company’s jobs. Sometimes, the consequences were more severe. In one case, in 1966, the lathing contractor Giuseppe D’Alessandro, of Gemini Lathing, found one of his job’s vandalized, which he believed was a targeted attack. After this incident, he met with Simone, the lathing contractor Cesidio Romanelli, and another man over dinner. During this meeting, it was suggested to D’Alessandro that if he bought “a couple of freezers” and gave one to Simone, his problems would go away. So he did as instructed. Two years later, D’Alessandro received further instructions to go the Conroy Hotel and give $1,000 to an intermediary of Simone as a token of appreciation for Local 562’s “sweetheart deal” with the lathing contractors. According to D’Alessandro, about ten other lathing companies did the same. Simone later testified that he regularly received sums of money from contractors, including up to $1,200 to pay for his trip to Italy: “They would call me to their office and say ‘Here, have a drink on me.’ “ [*1]

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