Showdown for the BusFellas' Union

A mobster's old cronies vie to keep control

The loudest complaints about the abuses during Battaglia's reign have come from the rank-and-file group called Members for Change. The group has steadily agitated for tougher union action and sued to win early elections by secret mail ballot and under outside supervision. The national trustees said that elections were being planned anyway, but went along with an agreement to hold them next month. Ballots go out in two weeks and will be counted after the March 26 deadline.

School bus drivers and escorts are spread around the city at isolated terminals and yards, and the Cordiello slate and the Members for Change group have been campaigning there for weeks, as have other candidates vying in the election.

"We are trying to bring honesty back and get real representation," says John Bisbano, who is running at the top of the Members for Change ticket.

School bus union candidate Bisbano: Steering away from the mob
Emily Peet-Lukes
School bus union candidate Bisbano: Steering away from the mob

Bisbano, a driver for 15 years, remembers trying to argue a point with Battaglia Sr. at a meeting a few years back. "He says, 'You're out of order.' When I don't sit down, he sends over the sergeants at arms. They say, 'He wants you out—you gotta go.' Sal yells out, 'Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.' "

The ranks of the city's school bus workforce has increasingly filled with Haitians and other minorities in recent years. Battaglia managed to remain remarkably blind to this changeover, his executive board remaining totally white for years. Simon Jean-Baptiste, a Haitian and a driver for 21 years, is running for the number two slot on the executive committee with Bisbano. "These guys are not interested in reform. They don't see the need," he said of Cordiello's team. "But that's what we are all about."

Also seeking the local's top job on a separate slate is Tom Nero, a shop steward who once donned his own wire to expose Battaglia. "All these guys were put there by Sal Battaglia," he said of Cordiello's team. "That tells me where they're headed. If they win, it will be just the way it was." Which may be what many in the school bus industry are hoping.

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