Union for Sale

DC 37, the city's powerful consortium of municipal unions, is rocked by corruption investigations—and challenges from rank-and-file reformers

Charges for cut flowers, limos, trips to the Catskills and the Bahamas loomed large on Autovino's company American Express card. But Vegas was a big expense. In one month, Autovino hit the Mirage, the Desert Inn, Caesar's Palace, and Bally's.

Tucker organized a petition, got it signed by 100 members, and sent it to Stanley Hill. "We are appalled at the scandal that is ripping apart our Local," she wrote. Tucker demanded a meeting with Hill. While Hill claims he sent a lawyer to meet with the members, Tucker says she never got a response.

The overtime local

When details of how Charlie Hughes managed to spend $10 million from the local were presented at a hearing held by an AFSCME judicial panel in March, Hughes supporters in the crowd cheered each item--such as the $1.4 million in expenses Hughes piled up for a week's retreat at Friar Tuck's in the Catskills. Hughes's members are part-time Board of Education cafeteria workers who average $10,000 to $11,000 a year plus benefits.

While the members rarely get paid for more than 20 hours a week, Hughes has become famous for the hours he's billed. In 1997, the same year in which he earned $241,000, Hughes requested overtime for all the work he'd done since he'd been president in 1971. Hughes promptly got a check from DC 37 for $1.1 million.

Vinnie Parisi's dirty turkeys

Sarah Gotbaum was Victor Gotbaum's first wife and political partner going back to their days in the Young People's Socialist League at Columbia in the early '50s. Victor Gotbaum ran DC 37 for the 22 years preceding Hill's 11. There are hours of tapes and interviews with Sarah Gotbaum carried out by Jewel and Bernard Bellush, who coauthored Union Power and New York. On one tape, Sarah, who is now divorced from Victor, is quoted as saying, "Vic knew that Vinnie Parisi's network was linked to the Mafia. He looked the other way."

Vinnie Parisi, who used to be the president of DC 37's Local 376--the laborers local--is dead. But his name and network resurfaced last July in an exposé, written by Richard Steier for The Chief, of an otherwise risible DC 37 turkey brokering scam. Steier revealed that presidents of several DC 37 locals had made a practice of giving their members Thanksgiving turkeys, bought for roughly $17 to $22 each from a Queens poultry firm--then charging the unions around $45 for each bird. The officials pocketed the difference as "brokerage fees." There were lots of turkeys involved.

Mixed up in this business was Robert Crilly, president of the computer workers Local 2627, who told Steier he had originally bought turkeys from Vinnie Parisi, and then from Parisi's successor at Local 376, Joe DeCanio. According to Crilly, DeCanio got the turkeys from Vinnie Parisi's grandson, Joseph A. Alfano, described by Steier as a turkey "conduit."

Alfano served as a $52,000-a-year grievance representative, and an aide to Hughes. The cost of the birds purchased by Crilly from Alfano averaged $36,000 a year. Alfano recently resigned. Both Alfano and Crilly requested that their phone numbers not be given out by DC 37.

"You're talking hearsay," Stanley Hill insisted when asked about the gobblers. "You're making allegations about where these turkeys came from. You don't know where they came from. I don't have any information or evidence. We don't really know the way the turkey situation has been handled."

Zombies for Taylor

Perhaps the most striking feature in Local 983's office under President Robert Taylor was the lack of any equipment: no fax, no xerox, no computers--just a phone and a fridge. It turns out there were no real elections and no financial accountability either. Investigators are trying to find out what happened to at least $700,000 in funds the union cannot account for.

Taylor "was not a player," according to attorney Arthur Z. Schwartz, who has been retained by the local's new president, Mark Rosenthal. "He was just a guy who signed checks." Taylor was installed in office following the death of President Frank Morelli in May 1994.

But the '94 election was suspect. "When Taylor was elected by the 983 executive board, they didn't have enough votes. The leadership couldn't produce a quorum for Taylor. He had only six votes," asserts Rosenthal. "The other names were either of people who were retired or dead. Taylor was elected by the zombie vote."

Taylor's vice president, James Dickens, confirms Rosenthal's charges. "What happened in '94 after Morelli died," says Dickens, who now works at the 34th Street and 12th Avenue car pound, "was that we had an executive board of five or six. Joe Timpa was the vice president. But he couldn't take over the top job. He'd put in for retirement. So Joe Timpa said to a small group of us, 'I'm going to make Robert Taylor president.' There were supposed to be 19 executive board members, but under Morelli, the number had fallen to six." Dickens was one of the valid names sent along to AFSCME to certify the election.

Dickens was also an eyewitness to a May 1995 vote being investigated by the Manhattan D.A.'s office. In that race for the 983 executive board, supervised by election officer David Catala, ballots were counted in the DC 37 mailroom. Robert Taylor's entire slate won, except for a guy named Ed Wiley. Claims Dickens, "Robert Taylor announces that Wiley had lost. Then he tells everyone to step out of the room. When we come back, Taylor says that Wiley won." Catala was subsequently given a job with DC 37 as a grievance rep.

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