By GRACE WYLER
In an unexpected role reversal, the leaders of Teamsters Local 377 are facing accusations of unfair- labor practices from the local union hall’s two employees.
The conflict has resurrected political tensions at the union, which has been plagued by infighting for several years.
Local 377’s office manager Denise Sculli, who is still employed by the union, and former receptionist Michelle Sinkele have been embroiled in a contract dispute with union officials since March.
Sinkele was laid off temporarily in June for “economic reasons,” union officials said.
The two women, members of the Professional Office Workers union, recently filed charges against the Teamsters with the National Labor Relations Board. The claims accuse Teamsters officials of refusing to negotiate any renewal or extension of their contract, which expired in March, and of violating the terms of their collective-bargaining agreement.
The charges also state the Teamsters improperly laid off Sinkele.
Sculli, who has worked for the union for 26 years, noted that this is the first time the office employees have had trouble with their contract.
“We have never had a problem negotiating with the officers,” she said. “This is what unions are supposed to be all about — two parties coming to the middle and finding a happy medium.”
John Lesicko, secretary-treasurer of Local 377, confirmed that the union has decided not to renew its contract with the office workers. He said that union officials had issues with the language of the agreement, which was negotiated by the union’s previous leaders. He declined to provide specifics about the issues.
Lesicko denied claims the union had violated its contract with the office workers, adding he believes their accusations are “politically motivated.”
“They don’t like the union getting back on its feet,” Lesicko said.
Sculli and Sinkele have garnered support from several members and former officials of Local 377, including former secretary-treasurer Robert Bernat.
Bernat, who had the union’s top position for nine years, was ousted in 2006 by a slate that included members of the union’s current executive board.
That election was followed by two years of political infighting, which included a corruption case against two union officials who later were expelled from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The union was placed under national trusteeship in 2008 until the most recent elections in 2009.
Bernat said his only motive is to provide support for longtime friends and employees whom he believes are being unfairly treated. He joined about 30 other members of the community at an informational picket Monday in front of the union hall at 1223 Teamster Drive to show support for Sculli and Sinkele.
“They have stood by us,” Bernat said. “I think it is a shame that these guys would treat them this way.”
Some union members said they did not think the office, which serves a membership of about 3,200, could run with just one office employee.
Bernat said Local 377’s treatment of its employees reflects poorly on the labor organization’s commitment to its core principles.
This is not the first time the Teamsters have faced the threat of unfair labor charges from its own workers.
Office employees at the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters’ national office in Washington, D.C. — represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union — threatened to strike in August 2009 in response to IBT demands for pay cuts and decreased benefits.
IBT President James Hoffa Jr. said at the time that the labor dispute was an “embarrassment” to the politically powerful Teamsters union.
Lesicko dismissed the idea that Local 377 had acted against the Teamsters commitment to fair labor standards.
“I haven’t treated [the office workers] any differently than any company I have dealt with,” he added.