Mob-Controlled Queens, N.Y. Bus Drivers Local Threatens, Ignores Members

Members of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) want some answers about where their money is going. That’s understandable given the caliber of people running the show. The president of the 15,000-member Queens, N.Y. school bus drivers’ local, Salvatore Battaglia, is facing federal charges of obstruction of justice, having been accused of conspiring with members of New York’s Genovese crime family. He’s still in office. The union’s secretary-treasurer, Julius Bernstein, was forced by prosecutors to step down from his post in June; he’s due for sentencing late next month for racketeering. And its pension fund director, Ann Chiarovano, despite pleading guilty in August to obstruction of justice, remains at her job because she is technically not a union officer. Something is amiss here.


Some dissenting members think the parent union is a silent partner of the local. “It’s a disgrace,” said member Gloria Flaherty. “The union local is all run to the leaders’ benefit. They don’t represent the members. The major problem now is the international union. They’re aware of what’s going on and they just don’t care.” Leo Wetzel, general counsel for the ATU, sympathizes with the frustration, but takes issue with the idea that his union has given tacit approval to local corruption. “We have retained an independent counsel to review, to ferret out as best we can, what’s in the public record and to recommend appropriate action.” He added that the ATU has no power to remove pension fund director Chiarovano. 


The dissenters were out in force at a recent meeting at John Adams High School in Queens, where members voted on whether to uphold a challenge to the local elections of last year. The vote overwhelmingly went in favor of dropping the challenge – or did it? Several critics of Battaglia insisted the true margin of victory was only 60 percent to 40 percent. Following the elections, they reported being intimidated or discovered that someone else had voted in their name. Several dissidents said that before the recent meeting, they had approached three union vice-presidents from other cities ostensibly brought in to monitor the proceedings. But the trio didn’t seem interested in their work. “We went up to talk to them to ask whether a secret ballot was in order,” said bus driver Warren Zaugg. “They got up from their chairs and literally turned their backs on us.” Driver John Bisbano said Battaglia dominated the meeting, refusing to allow others to speak.        

At least the Genovese crime family hasn’t been keeping silent. In September, reputed acting boss Matty “the Horse” Ianniello admitted during his guilty plea in Manhattan federal court that he’d helped arrange for bus companies to make payoffs to Local 1181 officials. Julius Bernstein, the local’s secretary-treasurer, was charged with obstructing justice, extorting money from a bus company, and conspiring with Ianniello and other Genovese mobsters to extort $100,000 from a medical center leasing space from the union. Prosecutors have taped conversations of local officials meeting with Ciro Perrone, a top Ianniello lieutenant, at Don Peppe’s, a restaurant near union headquarters in Queens’ Ozone Park neighborhood. ATU’s Wetzel said his union could find no record of Bernstein’s guilty plea, but the anti-Battaglia faction’s lead attorney, Carl Levine, asserts that sources at the U.S. Attorney’s Office informed him that Bernstein did in fact plead guilty. Bernstein’s lawyer, Michele Bonsignore, would not comment. Local 1181 spokesman Steve Mangione claims the union under Battaglia has negotiated the best contract in the industry. Even if that’s true, rank and file, whether or not they are aware of it, are getting stiffed. (New York Times, 11/6/06).