Two yrs. after the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees took over its Las Vegas affiliate, officials in the union’s NYC HQ continue to defend their takeover as necessary to repair a “complete breakdown of the democratic processes of the local.” Many local members, however, claim that the Intl. fraudulently seized the local union in 2002, and has failed to represent the financial interests of local stage employees. According to an attny. representing some of those members, the U.S. Dept. of Labor is examining the Intl. takeover of Local 720. A DOL spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny whether such an investigation is occurring.
The dispute is now playing out in dueling lawsuits, both filed in the U.S. Dist. Ct. for Nev. Last Nov., the 2 trustees appointed by the Intl. to run 720, Robert Trombetta and Dennis Brook, alleged that officials of the Local’s pension fund have wrongly prevented them from removing Michael McDonald as a trustee of the fund. They claim that he is not a valid member of the union, and thus cannot serve as 1 of the 3 union trustees, who balance the other 3 representing employers. “The [fund] trustees amended the trust agreement to perpetuate their own control over the fund and avoid accountability to the local,” the lawsuit alleged. “The trustees did not make such amendment to benefit the plan participants.”
But at least some local members believe that Trombetta and Brook have mismanaged the union’s insurance benefits, and don’t want them to gain control over the pension fund. Michael Urban, an attny. representing several frmr. members of the Local’s exec. bd. in a lawsuit filed in March 2003, said that the Intl. has made changes to the local members’ vacation pay and health insurance contributions, and has eliminated a life insurance policy, all without consulting members.
“The international has negotiated contracts without input from the members, they have reduced vacation pay, they have sent monies that would have been going to local members to international annuity funds and they have revised contracts so that potential future increases in wages might also go to that annuity fund,” Urban told Alana Roberts of the Las Vegas Sun. “They have canceled, without explanation, a life insurance program for members and there have been at least six members who have died with no coverage.”
Gordon Coker, a retired member of 720, said that he and others lost their life insurance policies after the 2 trustees took over the local, and that some 6 members have died without their survivors reaping any benefits from the policy. He and Urban both say that the Intl. officials took over 720 because of the money to be made from a booming economy in Las Vegas. Between 300 and 400 new wrkrs. have joined the union since Trombetta and Brook took over, Urban and Coker claim, but the 2 haven’t gotten the new members more jobs.
The suit filed by Urban is pending before Chief U.S. Dist. Judge Howard McKibben (NV, Reagan). The 2 trustees’ pension suit is pending before U.S. Dist. Judge James Mahan (NV. G.W. Bush). [Las Vegas Sun, 5/10/04]