Hands in the Till Prompt Oversight of Big Verizon Local
A New York City telephone workers local will be overseen by a monitor, after a union investigation revealed top leaders engaged in “a number of highly questionable practices involving compensation.”
The action by the Communications Workers’ national executive board is not a trusteeship and allows Local 1101’s November election to proceed on schedule. The board also upheld charges, filed by reformers in the local, alleging violations of democratic process at membership meetings.
Local 1101 has 7,000 members, mostly at the telecom giant Verizon, where the contract for 50,000 members on the East Coast expires in August.
A union-appointed prosecutor and financial investigator revealed in a report released March 24 that local officers and executive board members granted themselves $225 a week in unreceipted expenses—a cumulative cost of $156,000 annually for the union’s top leaders.
The expenditure, which was never approved by members, was explained as covering costs for gas, mileage, insurance, and tolls, although the local also paid out up to $37,000 a year in car service costs. Local leaders also gave themselves a 401(k) plan with a contribution equaling 15 percent of salary. The contribution was paid for by members’ dues—again without seeking member approval.
The investigators’ report criticized the “imprudent use of local funds,” noting that officers charged meal costs that averaged more than $225 per meal and hotel rooms that cost $600 a night during out-of-town conferences.
Other allegations of financial impropriety raised by three incumbent board members in a March 1 request for a trusteeship were shunted to the side, awaiting the resolution of a Department of Labor investigation.
Al Luzzi and Joe McAleer, Local 1101 vice presidents, and business agent Pat Gibbons claimed that officers routinely charged both the local and the company for 40 hours of work per week, and had done so for decades. CWA investigators tried and failed to access Verizon payroll records to settle the claim of double-dipping. Neither would officers turn over tax returns to settle the matter.
But the DOL, unlike the union, has the power to subpoena records.
Contract Fight, Then Election
Reform candidates hailed the move, saying it would ensure a level playing field for the fall election.
“This will keep a check on the executive board,” said Kevin Condy, a candidate on the Rebuild 1101 reform slate. “It ensures there will be no crazy spending going on and that our democratic rights are respected.”
CWA’s decision to monitor the local instead of trusteeing it fits into a pattern within the union.
After incumbents in CWA Local 1400 in New England stole an election eight years ago, the national union took the election process out of the hands of local officers, and a slate headed by reformer Don Trementozzi swept into office in a re-run.
Supporters of the approach, like former CWA staffer Steve Early, say it allows rank-and-file leaders inside locals to reclaim their union when it goes astray, instead of depending on outside trustees appointed by national officers.
Reformers inside Local 1101 have a long history of standing up for their rights.
Condy, along with fellow candidate Al Russo, filed charges after a November membership meeting where incumbents turned aside members’ wishes on a referendum vote.
Almost 900 members turned out to tell officers that they wanted to separate the eight proposed bylaw changes in the referendum and not vote them as a block. One would have sweetened members’ pensions and was a sure-fire win, while another reshuffled representation posts to the incumbents’ advantage. The challengers voted for a line-item ballot, but incumbents sent one out with a block-vote option anyway.
The referendum, which passed in January, was overturned by the national executive board. Incumbents may yet try again.
While the installation of a monitor is something of a vindication for the Rebuild 1101 slate, which has been chipping away at the incumbents for years, the timing is painful.
Contract talks promise to be tough, with Verizon likely to copy its competitor AT&T, which forced major health care cost-shifting onto CWA members two years ago.
With just five months before contract expiration, the challengers are reaching out to chief stewards aligned with the incumbents to present a united front against the company. Russo said they will join up for informational picketing before work and during lunch on April 4, the AFL-CIO’s national “We Are One” day of action, and then march together to a rally at City Hall after work.
“Nobody is happy about this embarrassment,” Condy said. “But the union is strong enough to sustain this.”