A growing number of members of Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union for months have been demanding more transparency. There are some pretty good reasons why. Local President Salvatore Battaglia was indicted in June 2005 for racketeering and obstruction of justice, yet somehow managed to keep his job, collecting an annual salary and benefit package of more than $225,000. Secretary-treasurer Julius Bernstein had taken a leave of absence this June and is shortly due for sentencing for racketeering. And Ann Chiarovano still heads the Queens, N.Y.-based Local 1181 pension and welfare benefit fund, even though she pleaded guilty this summer to obstruction of justice, and also faces sentencing.
ATU International President Warren George had seen enough. He placed the school bus drivers union, with roughly 15,000 members, in “immediate temporary trusteeship.” Prompting the action was the fact that Battaglia on November 20 had been charged with another offense: shaking down school bus companies, and enlisting help in that task from the Genovese crime family. Both Battaglia and Bernstein, along with 18 other people, including top Genovese leaders, were charged in July 2005 with a wide range of federal offenses. President George declined to say why he had not taken such action earlier.
Dissenting union members couldn’t be happier. “That’s great news,” said Tom Nero. “That is what we’ve been trying to do. We’ve been asking them to investigate these people for the longest time.” Another spokesman, Eddie Kaye, stated, “After living in a wonder-world of denial, they have finally trusteed a local where over the past year many of the leaders were indicted and convicted.” These and other critics within the union also are cheering the FBI’s recent announcement that it had launched a probe into allegations that several school bus companies for years had made payments to union officials. In the meantime, employers’ representatives on the Local 1181 welfare and pension board voted on November 21 to hire an independent monitor, Bart M. Schwartz, a former federal prosecutor, “to oversee auditing of all financial records and ensure that reforms are implemented.” (New York Daily News, 11/22/06; New York Times, 11/22/06; other sources).