Hazardous Labor

Ethnic Rivalry and Democratic Debate in a Union of Immigrants

Elena Corrales, who had worked in the waste removal industry since 1989 and ran on the insurgent "United Immigrants" slate, claimed she was fired from her asbestos job soon after she became a candidate. Jorge Nacipucha said that after he took part in a protest against Severino's firing, he was told by local officials that he wouldn't be dispatched to new jobs if he continued. He said he had only managed to work a few weeks since then.

Some Eastern European members who backed Severino claimed they got the same treatment. Kazik Prosniewski, a native of Poland and a business agent since 1996, said he decided to run on the challengers' slate because of what he called a lack of internal democracy in the union. Prosniewski said he was fired from his job soon after the election, a move he had expected since he was an appointee. But he said he has also been fired five times since then from jobs as an asbestos handler. "I have all my licenses and my papers," Prosniewski said. "One supervisor called to me, he knows I am a good handler. He said, 'I am sorry I cannot help you.' "

Marek Truskolaski, who also ran on the insurgent slate, said he had also been told by supervisors that he couldn't work for them. "They said they didn't want to get in trouble," he said.

Union workers removing asbestos from the South Street ferry building last month
photo: Don Pollard
Union workers removing asbestos from the South Street ferry building last month

District Council officials declined to comment on the dispute, saying it is an internal election. But they said it would not be unusual for members to be out of work because of the poor economy.

Speziale scoffed at the claims of political retribution. "We would never do something like that," he said. Severino, he said, had caused his own firing by repeatedly attacking Kedzior and himself at board meetings.

"This is ridiculous we are having this re-election," said Speziale. "We did everything open and honest, everything was done right. We ran a positive campaign. They had a dirty campaign. They ran on lies, their objective was to divide the membership."

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