How to get rid of a union organizer

Culinary Union slapped with grievances

As a group created for the sole purpose of fighting for workers' rights, officials at the Culinary Union Local 226 are accustomed to closing ranks and taking on outsiders. But what happens when they're forced to fight one of their own?

A Culinary organizer for more than 11 years, Mario Vidales says he took on every casino and every powerful business interest that union leaders asked him to: Bally's, the Flamingo, nearly every gambling house in Reno. But when he refused to attack the 100 or so Culinary employees trying to organize their own union-within-a-union back in early 2005, Vidales says union leaders began shutting him out -- and started laying plans to get rid of him. Over the next two years, he says, union leaders tried to bully him out the door. When that failed they fired him in November 2007 for repeatedly and improperly calling in sick.

Today, Vidales has filed grievances with the National Labor Relations Board and the U.S. Department of Labor, alleging union bosses violated state and federal anti-discrimination laws, a litany of provisions in his contract and the basic tenets of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. He wants $30,000 in back pay he says is rightfully his. And he says he wants the world to know how three key Culinary figures -- President Geoconda Arguello Kline, Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor and Staff Director Ted Papageorge -- have perverted the focus of the Culinary from fighting for workers to fighting for as much political and economic muscle as possible for themselves.

It all started in June 2005, after Papageorge removed Vidales as a supervisor, relegating him back to the position of organizer. Vidales says things went from bad to worse pretty quickly. As union bosses went after the handful of Culinary employees who were pushing for an in-house organization, the roar of infighting was deafening. Today, union employees have an in-house union to look out for their interests, but Vidales says Culinary officials did all they could to keep that from happening. It was a fight he didn't want.

"Ted and Geoconda wanted me to prepare verbal or physical attacks on these people who were organizing. It was ironic; these union employees had no representation of their own. But I refused. So Ted singled me out, telling me I wasn't a leader. I said, 'Ted, that's not being a leader, that's being an asshole,'" he says.

Vidales says seams of discontent broke open throughout the Culinary in the wake of that 2005 push to organize internally. The union's leaders, he says, stopped trusting the rank-and-file. The feeling was mutual.

"There was a lot of favoritism. If you weren't a favorite [of union leaders] or if you disagreed with what they said, you were out. In the Culinary, you must say yes, or you say nothing," he says.

Vidales says the stress of constant internal dissension and constant verbal and emotional harassment from Papageorge and other union officials caused him to develop diabetes and hypertension. According to internal union documents Vidales shared with CityLife, in March 2007 leaders approved extended stretches of recuperation time for him under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. But when he began taking advantage of all the down time, Vidales says, union officials saw their chance to get rid of him on trumped-up allegations.

But union officials reply that Vidales was fired for repeatedly refusing to call in sick on time. Sometimes, they say, he never called in at all; he just didn't show up. After repeated warnings, union officials say they unanimously agreed Vidales had to go.

"Management kind of bent over backwards to get him to straighten up his act," says Sam Savalli, Culinary's communications and member benefits coordinator. "We took all this info to the executive board. It was unanimous with the five members who were there. How could we ever take a position that this guy shouldn't be fired? Sometimes he wouldn't call in, sometimes he just didn't even show up."

Savalli says that on the days when Vidales would call in sick up to five hours after his shift began, he asked Vidales to bring in some kind of proof that he had gone to see the doctor that day. He says Vidales refused.

Vidales says, correctly, that since he was OK'ed for extended time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, he wasn't required to bring a note from his doctor. In fact, internal Culinary documents clearly state that union bosses would not ask Vidales to further substantiate his illnesses when he returned to work.

The reason they wanted some sort of proof, says Savalli, is because union leaders wanted to give Vidales the benefit of the doubt. Savalli wouldn't comment on how valuable Vidales was as a union organizer, but Culinary officials did provide CityLife with 10 examples of dates they say Vidales either called in sick hours after they were expecting him at work or didn't show up at all.

The warnings from union bosses began coming Vidales' way in January 2007. Union leaders fired him on Nov. 16, 2007.

Vidales says the reason union leaders took so long to fire him is because they wanted to build a specious, yet substantial, paper trail they could point to if he ever tried to take them to court.

Vidales might not get his day in court, but officials at the Department of Labor tell CityLife they've received his complaint. Most likely, they say, many months will pass before federal labor lawyers can determine if Vidales has a case. A mediated agreement between Vidales and Culinary officials would likely take even longer.

Taking on the same people who've successfully taken on the state's most powerful business interests is a giant task for one guy. Vidales says he's coming forward because the public should know that the Culinary has changed. Sure, he says, union officials will point to their paper trail as the reason they fired him. The actual reason he was let go, he says, is because he refused to play their particular game of politics, and union bosses needed time to build a case against him.

"The Culinary has changed. They don't care about workers anymore, they care about power. And they want more of it," he says.

No, says Pilar Weiss, Culinary spokeswoman: Vidales' firing wasn't the end game of some multiyear political drama. Vidales' firing was the only option left to union bosses after his blatant disregard for procedure.

"You can't have people who call in sick the day after," she says. "We've fought for years to make sure our [members and employees] can access workplace guidelines. We're not disputing that he was eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act. But there was a very specific set of workplace polices, with progressive punishments, that he didn't follow."



Anonymous said...

I used to work for the operating engineers local 793 and the business manager would put violent bullies in charge of the organizers to do his dirty work. if you did not follow orders you were threatened with expulsion from the union by the president or even physical assault from the lead organizer. local 793 also did not care about the safety of its' organizers, they even gave out the personal information and adresses of these employees which, in my case, lead to telephone death threats at home and major vendalism to my personal property costing my insurance more than 11,000 dollars. when i cited these issues to the president of the operating engineers local 793 president he told me quote "these are your problems and not my problems...my problem is having to explain to mike[business manager] that we can keep 20 business reps but not 6 organizers". i had also requested a meeting with the local 793 business manager but was instructed that he would not be willing to see me at all and that my issues were not important at all to him. local 793 however did send their assistant business manager to tell me to enjoy my employment elsewhere when i announced that i was leaving. when i was an organizer my orders were to do anything to get the companies that the business manager selected or else face the consequences of termination and never working in the union again. my story ,sadly, is not unique. many unions treat their organizers like rented mules to threaten, disrupt, intimidate, vandalize, assault, harass and attempt to bankrupt non union companies to further their union bosses agendas. when i was an organizer for local 793 i had to start recording all phone calls in order to protect my self from all avenues of attack from not only the union itself but from rhe companies that i tried to organize. if you are an organizer be very cautious because the devil is lurking at every turn and the desire to succede will be greater at every step. WATCH YOUR BACK AND PROTECT YOUR FAMILY because more than likely your union will not

Anonymous said...

hey if you really want to see how coruupt local 793 is there is a website www.timeforchange793.org it is a really good read about documented events that took place before during and after the general election. the site is a real eye opener about how messed up that local is

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