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NJ Globe: Carpenters face lawsuit alleging retaliation against Ballantyne allies

Mercer County Assemblyman is one of the plaintiffs

By David Wildstein

Five allies of former Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters Executive Secretary John Ballantyne filed a lawsuit today alleging that the politically influential union fired them as part of a purge of reformers that included retaliation and discrimination.

The lawsuit comes two years after the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters fired Ballantyne, a political ally of Gov. Phil Murphy.

Among the five plaintiffs is Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli (D-Hopewell).

“This is textbook retaliation taken to the extreme,” said Nancy Erika Smith, the attorney for the plaintiff’s. “My clients were devoted union employees who fought to change the union’s regressive culture of racism and sexism. The bosses cynically used the pandemic to justify their removal. In fact, union jobs continued, and newly hired employees were not terminated while these five long-term dedicated employees were fired.”

Ballantyne has alleged that he was forced out after emerging as a top critic of George Lautenberg, a Carpenters union official who was later indicted on charges that he embezzled $1.5 million from his union.

Longtime union staffers Alex Lopez, Vanessa Salazar, Susan Schultz and Justin Ballantyne, John’s son, allege that they had their budgets cut, salaries slashed, assigned distant work locations and forced to give up passwords to digital devices.

“In order to purge the Union of those who wanted more honesty, accountability, diversity, and inclusion, the Union leaders employed tactics against my clients which included spying, defamation and intimidation,” Smith said. “They were verbally threatened and stalked; tracking devices were surreptitiously hidden on their vehicles; their phones were monitored; and their every movement was scrutinized and questioned.”

According to the lawsuit, the union violated the Conscientious Employer Protection Act and the Law Against Discrimination prior to their eventual termination.

“There were no work stoppages caused by the coronavirus, union members with much less seniority were not laid off and members in other related Unions were only temporarily furloughed. The Union leadership saw in the pandemic an opportunity to clean house of troublemakers who wanted to move the Union forward, to change the decades-long white-men-only culture in which no one questioned leadership,” stated Smith. “Rather than lead an honest and inclusive organization, these leaders were addicted to their power and to maintaining the self-serving status quo.”

“It is unfortunate that former employees would make such accusations about our Union. In the midst of a global pandemic, our Council had to make the tough and unfortunate decisions many other unions, businesses, and organizations had to make regarding staffing levels,” said Frank Mahoney, a spokesman for the Carpenters.  “The Councils staffing levels decreased in every state that the Council has geographic jurisdiction over, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Our goal is to always make decisions that are in the best interest of our hard working members in the field.”

This story was updated at 1:35 PM with comment from the Carpenters.