Members of Bus Drivers Local Seek a National Union Takeover

Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, in Queens, N.Y., consulted for years with New York’s Genovese crime family. Unfortunately, it didn’t consult with its own 13,000 members. Now, in the wake of federal prosecutions of the local’s leaders, the union’s national headquarters are getting an earful from local rank and file, which consist of drivers of school buses, private buses, and vans.

On July 28, federal agents and local police arrested 20 alleged mob members and associates, including Local 1181’s president, treasurer and pension director. The latter three persons are, respectively, Salvatore Battaglia, 58, Julius “Spike” Bernstein, 82, and Ann Chiarovano, 64. The indictment leading to the arrests charged, among other things, that Bernstein conspired with top Genovese mobster Matty “the Horse” Ianniello to extort cash payments from a medical center that rented space from the local. Some local members aren’t too happy about this turn of events. “We do not feel comfortable with this situation at all,” said Simon Jean-Baptiste, 50, a school bus driver. For their part, leaders of the 180,000-member national union do not feel comfortable having to respond. ATU lawyer Ronald Straci declined to comment, while defense attorneys for Battaglia, Bernstein and Chiarovano could not be reached.

Dissent in Local 1181 is a risky enough proposition. This June, an anti-corruption slate challenged Battaglia, whose annual salary exceeds $200,000, and his slate in the union’s first open election in more than a decade. The dissidents were defeated soundly, but maintain, with ample evidence, that the election was a sham. Battaglia’s people at various points allegedly physically intimidated opponents and crossed off their names from voting rosters before balloting began. “I was approached by a former shop steward of mine…and told if I continued with this, I would get a bullet in my belly,” said Warren Zaugg, 62, a bus driver from Medford, who ran for a delegate position. Six dissidents currently are challenging the results. (Newsday, N.Y., 8/15).