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Latest News - May 2011

May 15, 2011
Union whistleblowers: We were beaten and harassed after they accused bosses of looting
Source: New York Daily News
By: Brian Kates

Unionized phone company employees say they were beaten or threatened after they accused their labor bosses of looting their coffers through various scams.

One member of Communications Workers of America Local 1101 said that after he reported a time-sheet padding scheme, a thug beat him so badly his spine was injured.

Another says he found a dead rat in his locker, while a third said a union officer warned that suspected informants should be brought off company property and "taken care of."

The threats come to light as the U.S. Labor Department is probing charges that union bosses lined their pockets at the rank-and-file's expense.

Accusations include an unauthorized 401(k) plan union officers gave themselves funded with members' dues, along with hefty weekly allowances, lavish expense accounts and six-figure salaries, union documents show.

The feds are also looking into allegations that double-dipping union bosses illegally received pay from Verizon and the local for the same hours, sources said.

"This was union greed and that's worse than corporate greed," said Kevin Condy, a reform movement leader of the 6,700-member local that represents mostly Verizon workers in Manhattan and the Bronx. "These guys acted like they felt they were entitled."

And, some members charge, the bosses retaliated when threatened with exposure.

In August, business agent Patrick Gibbons said he received death threats and his office was vandalized after he complained that union bosses were misappropriating cash.

"They were warning me that if I continue to complain about their finances, they would have me killed," Gibbons wrote in an open letter to union members.

Six months earlier, Verizon heavy equipment operators Salvatore DiStefano and Sebastian Taravella sued the local in Brooklyn Federal Court.

They said they were harassed after telling Verizon security officials a manager allowed workers to leave early but claim a full day's pay - as long as they completed a quota of assigned jobs.

DiStefano told the Daily News he was "attacked by a union thug" as he started the morning shift at a Verizon garage in the Bronx in April 2009. "He pounded me with his fists, he spit on me, he choked me and threw me down to the floor," he said.

DiStefano said he suffered two herniated discs and had knee problems that required surgery. He got workers' compensation as a result, records show.

Taravella said a dead rat was put in his locker with "a note tied to his tail" that said "Rest in Peace, Sebbie."

The incidents came after a local vice president purportedly told members at a meeting, "We have to deal with these spies on a personal level, like take them ... off the company property and off company time and take care of them," the suit charged.

Taravella still works at Empire City Subway, a Verizon subsidiary; DiStefano was fired in July 2009 for "violation of the business code of conduct."

Verizon officials declined to comment except to say they'd given probers "a small amount of payroll information."

Lots of padding

A financial monitor hired by the union's national last month uncovered "highly questionable practices" by local union bosses, including:

 

  • Setting up a 401(k) plan for themselves to which members contributed a percentage of their dues, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. The national union halted the perk in March.

 

  • Establishing a weekly $225 no-receipts-required expense allowance that added $11,700 annually to the paychecks of each officer and board member. The national also stopped this in March.

 

  • Expensing meal tabs averaging $225 a person at an Atlantic City meeting and $600-a-night hotel charges in Las Vegas.

 

  • Spending up to $37,000 a year in car service bills while also charging for their own cars.

 

"We've turned over everything we've come across in our investigation to the Labor Department," said national CWA secretary-treasurer Jeff Rechenbach.

That included a phone call in which Local 1101 president Joseph Connolly discussed double-dipping with a union vice president, Rechenbach said.

Connolly, whose base salary is $170,000, did not return calls for comment. The Labor Department would not comment.

 

 


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