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From the January-February 2006 issue of Union Democracy Review #160

Amalgamated Transit international refuses to oust Local 1181 officers accused of mob domination

When members Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 in New York City learned that their top officers had been indicted in federal court charged with being controlled by the Genovese crime family, they appealed for help to their international president, Warren S. George. They asked him to remove the accused officers, put the local under trusteeship, and prepare for a fair election of a new set of leaders. They were jolted to read these words in his reply: "We are, of course, well aware of the recent indictments and are following case developments closely. Notwithstanding those actions, the officers and executive board members and stewards are continuing to effectively carry out their obligations and responsibilities on behalf of the membership they represent." The complaining members were puzzled, too, because they knew of no effort by the international to investigate the facts in the local.

On July 29, last year, after a three-year investigation of ATU Local 1181, 20 individuals were indicted on federal charges of racketeering, extortion, and obstruction of justice. Among them, were Salvatore Battaglia, Local 1181 president; Julius Bernstein, financial secretary; and Ann Chairovano, They were in select company. The 17 other were accused as members and associates of the Genovese crime family, including its alleged boss, Matty, the Horse, Ianniello. Bernstein was accused of associate membership in the Genovese family and of taking orders from the mob on running the union. They are charged with extorting $100,000 from a medical group that provides services to Local 1181 members. A trial is set for September 2006.

Local 1181, with16,000 members, mostly school bus drivers, is the largest in the ATU. Some members speculate that George's failure to act stem from a political reluctance to oppose the leaders of so powerful local and an understandable physical fear of resisting the mob.

The letter to George calling for the trusteeship was signed by six local members as representatives of the caucus, Members for Change.

Earlier in 2005, Members for Change had fielded an opposition slate of 18 candidates in the election of local officers, running Tommy Nero against Battaglia. According to the insurgents, it was the first contested election in many years. When ballots were tallied in June, the opposition was credited with 25% of the votes. It was an encouraging showing in this first effort. It was a breakthrough for democracy in a local that, up to then, had been closely controlled by an unchallenged officialdom which seemed invulnerable. In a changed atmosphere, Members for Change remained organized. The significance of that change became evident just a month later in July when the indictments were announced.

The officers accused of mob domination retain control of the local and its treasury. But they are no longer unchallenged. Members for Change is campaigning within the union to force action by the international. When International President George rebuffed their request, they appealed over his head to all the union's international vice presidents.

The caucus, Members for Change, is represented pro bono by attorney Carl Levine of Levy Ratner.

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