On Friday, September 1, the local chapter of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA Local 483) sent an open and damning letter to the Metro council, asking it to reprimand a new zoo supervisor—for a bumper sticker.
In the letter, the union explained that Joe Sebastiani, the new elephant barn supervisor, arrived for his first day of work on August 21 with a sticker attached to his car that described white people as the "Earth's most endangered species." The sticker also referenced the National Alliance, a notorious white separatist organization.
When numerous fellow zoo employees confronted him about it, Sebastiani removed the sticker but, according to the union, has not issued a public apology. Plus, the letter said, Sebastiani's "continued failure to strongly disavow racism can reasonably be interpreted as an endorsement of the sentiments of the National Alliance." The union's letter goes further, condemning Metro for failing to react with "prompt and decisive action designed to reassure rank and file employees that Metro takes workplace equality and diversity seriously."
The Metro council, though, appears unmoved. Spokesperson Karen Kane says that once Sebastiani was confronted about the sticker, he removed it and told his supervisors that it was placed on his car "inadvertently," perhaps as some kind of "goof." In other words, Sebastiani—who didn't return the Mercury's phone calls by press time—said the sticker was not his, and repeated that statement to Metro's human resources department.
The council, Kane says, feels the case is closed. Sebastiani has, "personally apologized to several people, including union shop stewards and co-workers," Kane says, and no formal complaint was filed.
Notably, the incident comes during a heated period in relations between the two organizations. The union and the Metro government are currently in a protracted labor dispute over some zoo employees, who have been without a contract for more than a year.
According to LIUNA organizer Rob Wheaton, the contract bargaining has hit an impasse, and there is no longer any direct communication between the two parties. In fact, he says, Metro isn't interested in meeting the union without a mediator present.
Normally, Wheaton said, the union would have taken care of the bumper-sticker problem "in-house," but since Metro won't communicate with LIUNA, they had to "take it to the public."
Metro's Kane wouldn't speculate about how Sebastiani's case was related to the contract negotiations, or even whether the two were related.