john catsimatidis

MAKING THEIR CASE: A Teamsters local has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that an oil-distribution company owned by billionaire John Catsimatidis has engaged in a pattern of illegal anti-union activities. Above, Mr. Catsimatidis, center, spoke with Demos Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 553, right, and George Miranda, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 210, in front of his Midtown Manhattan offices last month with an inflatable caricature of him in the background.

The union local representing dozens of workers at a Brooklyn fuel terminal owned by billionaire John Catsimatidis has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Metro Energy Corp. officials have engaged in illegal anti-union activities. 

The complaint, filed May 27, claims the company “illegally fired, threatened, and retaliated” against the roughly 25 terminal workers, fleet mechanics and service technicians who began a strike April 19, the union said.

'Anti-Union Pattern'

The charges, as outlined by Teamsters Local 553, say company representatives replaced striking workers, starting with union activists; told those who were either on strike or honoring the picket line that they would end their health coverage; threatened to subcontract out work; made anti-union statements; and bargained in bad faith. 

The company’s actions represent “a pattern of anti-union actions against workers that are illegal under the National Labor Relations Act,” the local said. 

Terminal workers, fleet mechanics and service technicians at United Metro Energy joined Teamsters Local 553 more than two years ago but are still waiting for a first contract. 

“These essential workers, most of them immigrants and breadwinners for their families, worked through the pandemic and they deserve better than illegal intimidation. They deserve fair pay and benefits,” the local’s secretary-treasurer, Demos P. Demopoulos, said in a statement. “We demand that the government hold the company accountable for violating these workers’ rights.”

Shorted on Pay, Benefits?

The union has claimed that the workers, who funnel gasoline, diesel and heating oil to New York City schools, hospitals and the MTA, are being paid as much as 50 percent less than what comparable employees are making at other oil companies in the city. They also have said the company’s health plan is substandard and expensive.

“I went on strike for a better future for my family, and on the first day of the strike I got a letter saying I was fired,” Andre Soleyn, a terminal operator, was quoted as saying by the union. “It’s no mystery why they fired me first, because I was the leader of the union-organizing campaign. It turns out that we were essential enough to report to work through the pandemic, but not essential enough to keep our jobs when we asked for a raise.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Catsimatidis’s umbrella of companies did not respond to an email seeking comment on the union’s NLRB filing. But she has previously disputed the workers’ wage and benefit claims, saying the pay and health-plan package offered to the oil company employees was similar to that which was accepted by a different group of workers within the same bargaining unit a few weeks earlier.

'I Work Well With Unions'

In a statement at the labor action’s outset, Mr. Catsimatidis said that this was the first time in his 51 years of doing  business that he had faced a strike. “I have always worked well with all labor unions,” he said at the time.

United Metro Energy is part of the Red Apple Group Inc. owned by Mr. Catsimatidis, who twice sought the Republican nomination for Mayor, coming in second in the 2013 primary. He briefly considered a run this year. He also owns talk-radio station WABC-AM, whose hosts include a leading Republican candidate for Mayor, Curtis Sliwa, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Mr. Catsimatidis himself.

United Metro, whose headquarters and terminal and storage facilities abut Newtown Creek, supplies and delivers bio-diesel, heating oil, natural gas and gasoline throughout the Metro area. The company also has facilities on Long Island.

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