NY UPS workers outraged over small noose hanging inside driver's truck, but Teamster union blocks punishment

NY UPS workers outraged over small noose hanging inside driver's truck, but Teamster union blocks punishment
BY LEIGH REMIZOWSKI DAILY NEWS WRITER Sunday, November 22, 2009, 7:56 PM

UPS workers at the Maspeth hub are outraged about a driver's choice to hang a small noose from his mirror.
A UPS driver's questionable choice for a rear-view mirror ornament on his delivery truck has stirred up a bitter feud at a Queens dispatch center.

A group of employees at the Maspeth hub were outraged when they learned that a driver was making the rounds with a small noose fixed to his mirror. They complained to managers, who tried to discipline the driver.

That's when the union stepped in - a move that some workers said stoked already simmering racial tensions there.

"A hangman's noose is a symbol of hate," said Jose Romo, a 20-year UPS veteran from Whitestone who learned of the noose in September when a fellow driver discovered it in the truck of Joe Bagnasco.

But Bagnasco told the Daily News that the ornament was there simply to "remind him of the old West."

He said he was unaware it was a symbol of hate.

"I grew up on spaghetti Westerns and there were nooses all over," he said. "I had no intention of anyone being hurt by it."

Romo, who is Hispanic, and many fellow minority drivers, said they don't buy it. They want Bagnasco to apologize and get the punishment they feel he deserves.

"A hangman's noose is no better than a swastika," Romo said. "Nobody ever sees one and thinks of anything positive."

Romo said it is UPS policy that drivers can't keep personal property in their trucks.

When supervisors at the Greenpoint Center were told of the noose on Sept. 4, Bagnasco was told to remove it immediately and he did, a UPS official said. The company also tried to suspend the driver, but the union blocked their action.

"The union is contesting the discipline," UPS spokesman Dan Cardillo said.

More than two months after the incident, he remains unpunished, workers said.

Teamsters Local 804, the union that represents drivers at the hub, did not return repeated calls for comment.

Another worker, who requested anonymity, said the incident has divided the center's almost 100 drivers.

"All the black and Spanish [Hispanic] drivers are looking at the white drivers differently," he said. "There's a lot of tension here."

Yet another driver, Wilbert Spell, of East Elmhurst, was fired from the dispatch hub in 2008. He recently filed a lawsuit against UPS, claiming he was fired because of his race.

Spell, who is black, said he was continually the brunt of racist jokes while working there.

"It's a very racially charged atmosphere there," he said.