Anyone who believes labor unions have forsaken menace as a tool to be used against internal dissent hasn’t hung around Communications Workers of America Local 1101 lately. A civil complaint filed in Brooklyn, N.Y. federal court against the Staten Island-based union this past February provides apparently damning evidence that the labor organization is run by thugs and thieves. Salvatore DiStefano and Sebastian Taravella, union members and longtime heavy equipment operators for Verizon, allege they were continuously subject to harassment and violence after reporting an illegal union time-padding scheme to the Verizon security team. The pair is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
According to the complaint, DiStefano, an employee of Verizon’s Staten Island Garage, in the summer of 2007 was in the presence of a first-level union supervisor, Bob Rios, who told crew members that if they performed three “fiber to premises” jobs in a given day, they could falsely put in for a full day’s pay regardless of how early they finished. DiStefano openly refused to participate in this scam. He then voiced his disapproval to fellow union members. Taravella, also a garage employee, expressed the same view. In May 2008, the pair went to Verizon’s corporate security staff, informing them of the scheme. Corporate security, however, did not keep the resulting report confidential. Big mistake.
Outsiders might have seen DiStefano and Taravella as whistle-blowers; CWA Local 1101 saw them as rats. The union hierarchy proceeded to subject the pair to unrelenting abuse. Bosses brought them up on phony charges of “harassment” and “discrimination” against fellow members. As punishment, during or about November 2008 DiStefano and Taravella were terminated from employment at the Staten Island Garage and relocated to other garages, demoted in rank, and given “final warnings.” When the pair complained to union officials Pat Lascala and Richard Meltz, they allegedly were told, “You guys did it to yourself.” In March 2009, shop steward Manny Rincon allegedly put a dead rat in Taravella’s locker. A month later, union member Chris Tremble called DiStefano a “rat” while hitting his face and head, and leaving him with two herniated disks. DiStefano complained about the incident to union officials, who promptly accused him of “starting a fight.” DiStefano eventually was terminated in July 2009. In October 2009, a union member, Joe Sedita, threatened Taravella with death for allegedly getting a fellow employee fired. All the abuse took its toll. Taravella and DiStefano since have been undergoing counseling.
Union officials not only took no action against acts of wrongdoing, they openly encouraged them. In November 2008, the aforementioned Richard Meltz allegedly told members to “do whatever you want with those two guys.” And at an August 2009 garage meeting, two local vice presidents, Joe McAleer and Mike Luzzi, told rank and file that Verizon was “having a lot of problems right now ‘due to a couple of troublemakers'” and that “We have to learn that we can’t call corporate security because we don’t want those people getting involved in our business.” McAleer allegedly stated: “I don’t want nobody in this room to call corporate security any more. [And] I don’t care if somebody come to work with a gun saying they’re going to shoot people, you don’t say anything…we have a lot of problems here due to the fact there are ‘spies in the room.'” He then added, looking directly at the plaintiffs, “You know who you are.” Finally, the complaint alleges that Macaleer told members, “(W)e have to deal with these spies on a personal level, like take them outside of the yard, off the company property and off company time and take care of them, because we can’t be ratting each other out.”
These allegations carry more than a ring of truth. It is the nature of any racket to protect participants by creating a wall of silence and exacting vengeance upon those in their ranks violating it. Some 40 years ago New York City cops operated in this manner, inadvertently supplying the raw material for such movies as “Serpico” and “American Gangster.” All evidence strongly suggests that Communications Workers Local 1101 leaders operated an illegal featherbedding ring. That one or more Verizon employees may have taken part can’t be ruled out either. DiStefano and Taravella’s only crime was standing tall in the face of corruption and intimidation. Their lawsuit hopefully will yield a measure of justice for themselves and integrity for unions everywhere.