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Wegmans Food Markets Inc. is illegally undermining contract talks with unionized truck drivers by colluding with one faction of the feuding International Brotherhood of Teamsters local that represents truckers driving Wegmans rigs, a union steward claims in a lawsuit.
The action also targets the national International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The 5,000 members of Brighton-based Teamsters Local 118 include roughly 1,200 Wegmans drivers, making the grocery chain's drivers the local's largest bargaining unit. Local 118 truckers also have contracts with United Parcel Service Inc. and Staples Inc.
"The claim against Wegmans lacks any merit whatsoever, and we intend to mount a vigorous defense," Wegmans spokeswoman Jo Natale wrote in an email.
A feud splitting the Teamsters local has roiled the truck drivers' union for more than a year and now is tainting contract talks with Wegmans, which is taking advantage of the discord to gain an unfair advantage, a Local 118 union steward claims in the lawsuit.
Teamsters national president James Hoffa put Local 118 under the control of an outside trustee in April 2012, citing a rift among members of Local 118's executive board since August 2011 that had "effectively (disrupted) the orderly administration of the local union."
Political infighting and charges of impropriety against Local 118 officers were "tainting the reputation of not only the local but all Teamsters in the area," Hoffa complained in a memo explaining the trusteeship to Local 118's members last year.
Citing fears that a fragile truce brokered by the trustee would not hold if the local were allowed to return to self-rule, Hoffa told Local 118 members in a September letter that he was extending the emergency trusteeship and delaying a union election that had been slated for last fall until the local could put its house in order.
The dispute has since spilled over into negotiations with Wegmans, Local 118 steward Christopher Camelio claims in a complaint filed last week in U.S. District Court in Rochester.
Camelio is asking the court to issue an order barring the grocery chain and members of the Teamsters local from "colluding or conspiring" in Local 118 contract talks. He also asks for unspecified damages and for the union and Wegmans to pay his legal costs.
The Jan. 23 court action accuses Local 118 and Wegmans of labor law violations, claiming a union official secretly gave a Wegmans official information on strategies the union planned to use in contract talks and briefed her on grievances it planned to air in negotiations over a new contract.
The local's contract with Wegmans expires in May.
Described in court papers as a Local 118 steward for 10 years, Camelio is the action's sole plaintiff. The complaint identifies him as one of 26 Local 118 stewards who signed a letter dated Aug. 20, 2012, to John Schmitt, the Hoffa-appointed trustee, laying out their suspicions of collusion between their rivals and a Wegmans official.
Schmitt investigated the charges but took no action, moving the disgruntled stewards to seek a remedy in court, the complaint states.
The Camelio complaint accuses Local 118 business agent Christopher Toole of leaking confidential information relevant to contract talks. According to Camelio, Toole leaked the information to Trish Vantucci, senior manager of transport to stores, Wegmans' main contact with Teamsters truck drivers.
Toole, who at one time had been designated to represent Teamsters truckers to Wegmans, gave up those responsibilities in 2010 after "a heated argument" with another union official, the complaint states. But though they had no ostensible reason to communicate, Toole and Vantucci spoke often last year, Camelio's complaint alleges.
And as the expiration date of the Wegmans drivers' contract drew nearer, Camelio and other Local 118 stewards, "based on their ongoing and continued conversations with Vantucci ..., became convinced that Vantucci was, in fact, obtaining information from someone at Local 118, most likely Toole, to the detriment of Local 118," the lawsuit adds.
Confronted by union officials last summer, Vantucci at first claimed to have spoken to Toole no more than two or three times in the previous year. But after Camelio and stewards aligned with him pressed Schmitt to look into telephone logs kept by the union, Vantucci amended her statement, admitting to having spoken to Toole two or three times a month, the complaint states.
The evidence against the alleged conspirators would have been more damning had Schmitt acceded to the stewards' request to thoroughly comb through Vantucci's cellphone billing records, the court brief asserts.
Toole's move to disadvantage his own union in labor talks was made solely to embarrass his faction's rivals in the Teamsters local's internecine conflict, Camelio asserts in his court complaint.
The Camelio complaint alleges that the trusteeship came after Toole and other members of Toole's faction, including Local 118 presidential hopeful Paul Markwitz, repeatedly appealed to Hoffa, asking for outside control as a means of tamping down their rivals in the battle for control of the local.
"Toole shared information with Vantucci in an effort to undermine the quality of representation being provided to Local 118's members by (former Local 118 president Eugene) DeLorme (and others in DeLorme's faction) because Toole considers each of these individuals rivals for leadership positions in Local 118's upcoming elections," the complaint asserts.
DeLorme, who took over the Local 118 presidency in January 2011, previously had been the local's vice president when former Local 118 president Steven Mazza retired in 2010.
DeLorme was Mazza's pick to succeed him, Camelio states in court papers. But that did not sit well with Toole, who coveted the job. After being spurned by Mazza, Camelio claims, Toole launched a campaign to discredit DeLorme, filing formal charges accusing DeLorme of stealing union funds.
The local's rival factions offer differing versions of how those allegations played out.
Markwitz2012.com is a website promoting Markwitz's candidacy for Local 118 president. The Markwitz slate includes Toole.
Material posted on the Markwitz campaign's website includes a copy of a purported November 2012 decision signed by Hoffa that orders DeLorme removed from the Local 118 office for two years.
Camelio's court complaint does not mention a November 2012 decision against DeLorme. It states only that in October 2011, after the Teamsters' joint executive board in Buffalo considered charges against DeLorme, it "summarily dismissed" Toole's charges.
International Brotherhood of Teamsters spokesman Galen Munroe in Washington, D.C., declined to comment on charges filed against DeLorme.
Markwitz's campaign website depicts the DeLorme faction as having done little to promote the union while improperly rewarding DeLorme backers. It also describes Markwitz as ready to open contract negotiations with Wegmans and has a posting celebrating Toole's Jan. 3 appointment to the Teamsters' national UPS negotiating committee.
Camelio's lawsuit dismisses the Markwitz campaign's Web postings as propaganda.
Markwitz declined comment, deferring to Schmitt, who emailed a statement when asked to comment on Camelio's complaint: "We have been advised by counsel that the lawsuit has no merit. This case is presently in litigation, and we have no further comment."
After the 2011 ruling exonerating De-Lorme, the Camelio complaint states, DeLorme supporters struck back, filing charges against Toole.
In November 2011, Richard Militello, a steward and union trustee allied with DeLorme, accused Toole of misusing a union-issued credit card, Camelio states in the court filing, A panel formed to review Militello's charges allegedly found that Toole had embezzled some $300 in a series of small padded expense-account claims, surreptitiously altered the union's records by secretly going into the local's bookkeeper's computer, and induced a witness to perjure himself.
Toole did not reply to an email requesting comment.
2/1/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This correction appeared in the Feb. 8 print edition:
Due to incorrect information in a court complaint, a Feb. 1 article misstated the number of Wegmans Food Markets Inc. drivers represented by International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 118. The local represents 950 Wegmans drivers. The article also may have given the impression that contract talks between the union and Wegmans are under way. Formal negotiations to replace a contract expiring in May have not begun.
2/8/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email email@example.com.