For years the leaders of New York City’s Communications Workers of America Local 1101 have treated their union as a personal ATM machine. Now three dissenting board members have decided to deactivate it. The result has been virtual civil war – and a bit of supreme irony. The CWA national executive board recently appointed a monitor to oversee the affairs of the local. Triggering this action was the release on March 24 of a dissenters’ internal report indicating that top officers and executive board members had engaged in “a number of highly questionable practices involving compensation.” It’s the second recent scandal at the Staten Island-based union, most of whose 7,000 members work for Verizon.
National Legal and Policy Center last May reported on CWA Local 1101 in a potentially related case. Two dissenting members, Salvatore DiStefano and Sebastian Taravella, both heavy equipment operators for Verizon, a few months earlier had filed a civil complaint in Brooklyn federal court alleging they were continuously subject to harassment after reporting an illegal union time-padding scheme to Verizon security officials. Fellow members sabotaged, threatened and physically assaulted the pair. Union bosses not only took no action against the perpetrators, they encouraged them. In particular, two local vice presidents, Joe McAleer and Mike Luzzi, at an August 2009 garage meeting told rank and file that Verizon was “having a lot of problems right now due to a couple of troublemakers.” Implying that DiStefano and Taravella were spies, McAleer allegedly told members, “We 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.”
What a difference a year makes. As if by osmosis, McAleer and Luzzi have become whistle-blowers themselves. The pair, along with business agent Pat Gibbons – each is a local board member – are charging that top union officials for years have been billing the union and Verizon for 40 hours a week for the same work. The double-dipping scheme wasn’t the whole of it. The offenders, which apparently include Local 1101 President Joseph Connolly and Executive Vice President Angel Feliciano, also granted themselves $225 a week in expenses, without receipts, totaling $156,000 a year. The purpose presumably was car trips, even though the union had been paying up to $37,000 separately for that function. During out-of-town conferences, top brass often charged meals averaging more than $225 and hotel rooms costing $600 a night. Most egregiously, local officials created a 401(k) plan for themselves with a contribution of 15 percent of salary paid out of member dues, but without soliciting member approval. An ad hoc local reform group called Rebuild 1101 is leading the charge for more transparency among union and Verizon officials alike.
So how does one account for McAleer and Luzzi morphing into men of conscience? It’s possible they are just that. Or perhaps, looking at the situation more cynically, they may be trying to take the heat off themselves in the DiStefano-Taravella civil suit, which is still active. Regardless of motive, McAleer, Luzzi and Gibbons had requested a trusteeship from the Communications Workers national board, but got a monitor instead. The case most likely will become a federal affair. CWA investigators had been denied access to Verizon payroll records to settle the claim of double-dipping. And the alleged offending union officers refused to turn over tax returns. The union does not have the power to subpoena records. The U.S. Department of Labor, however, does.