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Union Members Say They Were Beaten|For Reporting Bogus Pay Scheme

(CN) - Two members of the Manhattan chapter of the Communications Workers of America say they were beaten and harassed -- and one had a dead rat put in his locker -- after they reported that union brothers were being paid for work they did not perform. The men say the union supported the retaliation: that a local vice president told members that "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," according to the federal complaint.

Salvatore DiStefano and Sebastian Taravella, heavy equipment operators who worked their way through the ranks of Local 1101, say that as a result of the threats they both are receiving treatment from mental health professionals. They seek compensatory and punitive damages.

According to the complaint in Brooklyn Federal Court, DiStefano was a member in good standing with the union when in the summer of 2007 a union manager overseeing worked for Verizon on Staten Island told his men that so long as they did three "fiber to premises" jobs each day, they could put in for a full day's pay no matter how many hours they actually worked.

DiStefano says he refused to participate in the scheme, and told other workers, supervisors and union management that the practice was illegal. When Taravella went to work at the Verizon garage, he says, he expressed the same reservations.

DiStefano and Taravella say revealed the scheme to Verizon's corporate security in May 2008. From then on, they say, they were subjected to increasing abuse from union brothers, shop stewards and union chiefs.

They claim that Richard Meltz, a union chief, told angry union members to "do whatever you want with those two guys."

Immediately afterward, the two men say they were brought up on false charges that they had made "discriminatory" gestures" to their co-workers. The case was supported by affidavits signed by many of their union brothers.

As a result, DiStefano and Taravella say, they were "terminated" from the Staten Island garage, relocated, demoted, and placed on bogus "final warnings" due to the false charges of "discrimination" and "harassment" and "making gestures" to their union brothers.

When they complained to superiors, they were told, "You guys did it to yourself," according to the complaint.

Soon after that, Taravella says he discovered that somebody -- allegedly shop steward Manny Rincon -- had put a dead rat in his locker.

A month later, a union member called DiStefano a "rat" while hitting him about the face and head, an attack that left him with two herniated discs, he says.

In neither case did the union take action against the alleged perpetrator. Instead, in DiStefano's case, he says the incident led to his termination for allegedly starting the fight.

The plaintiffs say the union encouragement the violence against them. They say that at an August 2009 meeting, Joe Macaleer and Mike Luzzi, two vice presidents of the Local, told members that the company 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."

The complaint claims that Macaleer said, "I don't want nobody in this room to call corporate security any more." [And] "I don't care if somebody comes 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." [Ellipsis in complaint.]

Macaleer added, "You know who you are," while looking directly at the plaintiffs, according to the complaint.

DiStefano and Taravella sued the CWA Local 1101, seeking damages for reckless indifference, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

They are represented by Ambrose Wotorson of Brooklyn.


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