Election challenge in ATU local 1181

by Miriam Lazewatsky

A reform slate in New York’s Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1181 brought serious concerns to the attention of the Department of Labor regarding the results of the local’s June 12, 2014 election. The slate, Salerno Members for Change United Slate, led by Thomas Salerno, challenged the validity of the election results due to inconsistencies with eligibility and the membership list, unequal access to campaigning space, violations of previously-agreed-upon protocols, and other violations. The slate may not have known the exact outcome of the election, but it had more than doubts about its validity. The law firm of Levy Ratner, P.C. has been assisting the slate in challenging the June 12 election, which was a mail ballot supervised by the American Arbitration Association.

Even before the ballots were mailed out, Salerno’s slate encountered campaigning roadblocks that appear to violate Title IV of the LMRDA, which regulates union elections. The election challenge first submitted to incumbent Secretary Treasurer Jean Claude Calixte on June 23, 2014 includes allegations of multiple irregularities with the membership lists and eligibility determinations, employer interference in equal access to campaigning on work grounds, and concerns regarding the procedures of the American Arbitration Association (AAA), which was overseeing the secret ballot.

In the initial challenge submitted to Calixte, Salerno et al states that “approximately 800 [members in good standing] called the American Arbitration Association after not receiving ballots.” Out of the 800 who called to receive a ballot, “approximately 500 were not on the list.” The challenge argues that the number of members who did not receive a ballot is likely far higher than those who actually took the time to call the AAA to request one. Furthermore, the list provided to the AAA contained 558 more names than the list provided to Salerno’s slate for campaign mailings. In addition to the members who did not receive ballots over 1000 ballots were not counted, having been removed, added, or rejected without explanation.

These numbers are significant, because the the race was a close one, with just 155 votes separating the two candidates for President. The numbers in question are enough to have changed the outcome of the election. Additionally, members who did contact the AAA to request a ballot reported having difficulty getting through to the organization by phone, which may have further deterred voting.

Prior to the election, Salerno’s slate allegedly encountered favoritism among employers, stating in the challenge that the incumbents were given permission to post and leave literature at work sites, and incumbent slate members and their supporters were allowed to take time off from work to campaign. The opposition slate was not given any of these campaigning opportunities. Finally, the AAA has rules in place that provide for the handling of challenges to any elections overseen by the organization. These rules state that the challenges shall be ruled on either by an appointed arbitrator or by the AAA acting as arbitrator. According to the challenge submitted by Salerno et al, the slate was told by the AAA that the local’s incumbent officers would rule on any challenges to the election. Initially, the challenge seemed to get a response from the local, with Calixte requesting additional evidence, though the necessary evidence was included with the challenge submitted on June 23, 2014. On July 22, 2014, Salerno et al submitted a follow up letter to the local with additional evidence, addressed again to Calixte. This time they received no response at all. After three months without response or indication that the local would investigate the challenge, the slate, through the Levy Ratner, P.C., submitted a complaint to the New York District Office of the Department of Labor Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS). On February 10, 2015, the Department of Labor filed a suit against the local in the Eastern District of New York under Title IV of the LMRDA looking to void the results of the June 12, 2014 election. The suit aims to void the previous election and have the Department of Labor supervise a new election in order to guarantee a fair outcome.

AUD worked with reformers back in 2004 and has followed the course of ATU Local 1181 for many years now. A number of officers and known members of the Genovese crime family were indicted on charges of racketeering, extortion, and obstruction of justice. In UDR 160 (January/February 2006) AUD reported that, after a three year federal investigation, 20 individuals were charged under federal RICO statutes. Two of the officers pleaded guilty, while local president Salvatore Battaglia was forced to step down pending trial. Despite the extensive investigation and trial, the International never imposed a Trusteeship on Local 1181.

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