Former Machinists Vice President Charges He Was Demoted For Combating Misappropriation of Workers’ Dues Money

Is International Association of Machinists national President Bob Martinez more adamant about punishing a fellow IAM officer who blows the whistle on corruption than he is about punishing an officer who misappropriates thousands and thousands of dollars in workers’ forced union dues money to pay for personal airline, hotel, restaurant and other expenses?

The answer is “yes” — according to a lawsuit filed in August by Sito Pantoja, until recently an IAM general vice president and the head of its transportation division, the largest segment of the union.  Judging by what Pantoja, his fellow plaintiffs, and their attorneys have to say, Martinez doesn’t see misuse by union bosses of money the IAM has forcibly extracted from workers as a big deal.  But he has a huge beef with whistleblowers.

Pantoja is suing in part to be restored to his former union office, to which he was first elected in 2012 and to which he was reelected early this year.  Two rank-and-file IAM members have joined this suit because they also want Pantoja back as IAM transportation vice president.

His current troubles allegedly began in 2017, when in response to allegations of financial problems at IAM Local Lodge 2198, he ordered an audit of this subsidiary, representing ground personnel in Houston, of the international union.

The investigation uncovered “systematic embezzlement of approximately $100,000 of union funds” by Local 2198 officers.  One of the purported criminals was the sister of IAM Secretary-Treasurer Dora Cervantes.

Once the report was completed and submitted to the IAM’s top lawyer, Pantoja immediately pressed

Martinez and the IAM Executive Council to put Local 2198 “under supervision to stop the embezzlement.”

But Secretary-Treasurer Cervantes “opposed supervision,” and prevailed upon the Executive Council to block it for eight months, even as misappropriation of funds allegedly continued.

Later Pantoja received credible reports from IAM members and staff that the secretary-treasurer herself was misusing union treasury funds for first-class air travel “without any business justification.”  After fighting with only partial success for access to her travel and expense reports, Pantoja learned that Cervantes had, just for starters, made dozens of flights to Houston, where her extended family lives, on the union dime, while often giving reasons for her travel that were “blatantly false.”

Believing that Cervantes was guilty of “serious and ongoing fraud and misappropriation of union funds,” Pantoja openly opposed her reelection as secretary-treasurer early this year, and supported another candidate.

That’s when things reportedly started to get very ugly for Pantoja and his staff.  In recent months, Martinez and other top IAM officials, often acting without clear authority under union bylaws, have stripped Pantoja of his longstanding responsibility for handling transportation industry contracts, removed Pantoja’s chief of staff, barred Pantoja from IAM offices, and met in secret to force Pantoja to retire in 2022, despite the fact that the vice presidential term to which he was recently elected doesn’t expire until 2025. 

Meanwhile, after being loudly defended by Martinez and other top IAM brass, Cervantes was reelected this year, and appears to be completely secure in her high-ranking office, despite ample evidence purportedly showing she has again and again used workers’ forced-dues money to pay for personal expenses and lied about it. 

If Pantoja’s account correctly depicts the facts, the culture of union corruption must be deeply ingrained in the IAM.  If even a union vice president can’t attempt to combat embezzlement and lies by a fellow union officer without facing a vicious campaign of retaliation, imagine what would happen to a rank-and-file worker who tried to do the same!

After reviewing what has recently happened to Sito Pantoja, and the apparent reasons why it has happened, rank-and-file IAM members around the country would be amply justified in cutting off their financial support for the IAM.

Unfortunately, under current federal policies, many if not most IAM-“represented” workers in all 50 states, including the 27 Right to Work states, may currently be forced to bankroll a union, or be fired, as a consequence of the federally imposed railroad/airline-industry loophole in state bans on forced union dues and fees.

That’s a key reason why freedom-loving Americans are determinedly building congressional support for passage of the National Right to Work Act (S. 406 and H.R. 1725), legislation that would close this loophole and abolish private-sector forced union financial support in all 50 states.

If you have questions about whether union officials are violating your rights, contact the Foundation for free help. To take action by supporting The National Right to Work Committee and fueling the fight against Forced Unionism, click here to donate now.

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