State DMV probes inspections at Bayside Toyota dealership – QNS.com

State DMV probes inspections at Bayside Toyota dealership

By Sophia Chang

At the same time, the National Labor Relations Board said it was in the final stages of reaching a settlement with the Bayside dealership, located at 205-11 Northern Blvd., over alleged labor law violations involving threats against the striking employees.”What we're seeking is workplace justice, ” said Brian Schneck, second vice president of Local 259, who got a copy of the DMV report.Star Toyota owner Michael Koufakis did not return calls seeking comment.Robert Dennis, state DMV automotive facilities investigator, wrote in the report that he visited Star Toyota's service facility at 40-20 172nd St. in Flushing on May 27 and requested the dealership's 2004 safety inspection records.”The records for the months of January (through) March of the current year show that certified inspectors 122D; RB15; 769G; KS38; WA37; and G29, which are assigned to the striking employees, were used by the facility for the issuance of inspection certificates to new motor vehicles during that period,” Dennis said in the report.Each striking technician prepared a statement for the state DMV saying he had not performed any inspections since the eight went on strike in October 2003.In the report, Dennis concluded that Star Toyota “and or its employees have knowingly and willfully made false entries on the … forms for safety inspections. One hundred and four vehicles were allegedly inspected by striking employees during the months of January, February and March of 2004.”Dennis declined to comment on the findings. Christine Burling, a spokeswoman for the DMV, confirmed that there was an investigation into Star Toyota for “non-certified employees conducting inspections” but could not comment further on the case.”In the auto dealership world, New York state inspections are very, very sensitive things,” Schneck said. “You do it right to the letter of law, and you don't compromise in any way. The standards that the state has surrounding these inspections is very important also.”He pointed out that “the cars that are in question are new vehicles. Just because they are new does not mean they are necessarily safe.” In the state DMV report, Star Toyota service manager Robert Spalletta told Dennis that “he usually looks at the vehicles and some of the prep people. When the entries are made, they just enter one of the numbers from the list on the form. He realizes that this is wrong and he has since corrected the situation.”Spalletta said he did not want to comment.In the past 10 months Local 259 has squared off against Star Toyota as the eight strikers picketed outside the dealership, alleging union-busting and bad faith contract negotiations. The strikers said that in July 2002, they were illegally fired by Star Toyota for joining Local 259 instead of a company union and faced continued intimidation by management after they were rehired in September 2002. They began picketing in October. The pending National Labor Relations Board settlement addresses the alleged intimidation, a Board spokesman said.”These were mostly unlawful statements, such as threatening to discharge employees if they went on strike,” said Al Blyer, regional director for the Brooklyn office of the National Labor Relations Board. “In the settlement agreement they agreed to cease and desist from making those kinds of unlawful threats or remarks.” He anticipated the board's approving the settlement within the next few weeks.But Schneck said he does not believe the settlement will be satisfying to the strikers and the union.”We're in objection to it, and we didn't sign (the settlement),” Schneck said. “It's just a mere, 'oh, we at Star Toyota won't threaten our employees with physical harm,' and all that blah blah, nicey-nice stuff.”Schneck said the union will continue striking against Koufakis and Star Toyota.In June the dealership also ran into opposition from Community Board 11 and Borough President Helen Marshall's office while applying for a variance to expand its showroom on Northern Boulevard. The Board of Standards and Appeals is expected to rule on the variance request in September, Schneck said.Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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