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Jersey City Education Association head uses union office, secretaries to run his travel biz
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HAVE OFFICE, WILL TRAVEL
JCEA head uses union office, secretaries to run his travel biz
Thursday, August 02, 2007
By KEN THORBOURNE
JOURNAL STAFF WRITER

The ad couldn't be more enticing to classroom-weary Jersey City public school teachers seeking some R&R.

Nine days, seven nights in Argentina for $1,939 per person. Includes round-trip airfare, hotel transfers, a tango show, a cruise down the Tigre River, and a farewell dinner at Spettus, a swanky Buenos Aires steak house.

Another come-on reads: Cruise Burgundy and Provence aboard the River Royale, Aug. 4-7. Includes eight shore excursions with "English speaking guides" and special "Captain's Welcome and Farewell Dinners." Price-tag: $3,399 double occupancy.

These and two other travel-related "paid advertisements" appear in the latest edition of the JCEA Communicator, the bi-monthly newsletter of the 3,500-member Jersey City Education Association.

The company running the trips is identified as the "United Teachers Alliance of Hudson."

But what the ads don't say is that UTAH is a private, for-profit business owned and operated by the union's longtime president, Thomas Favia.

Although the state-registered address for UTAH is Favia's home in Bayonne, the company clearly also operates out of the teachers union offices at 1600 Kennedy Blvd.

The phone number listed on flyers advertising UTAH trips happens to be the JCEA phone number and union secretaries field incoming UTAH phone calls. Favia acknowledged he handles UTAH business during office hours. Flyers advertising UTAH's trips are prominently displayed inside the JCEA office.

The newsletters with the "paid advertisements" are distributed to teachers' mailboxes and mailed to their homes on the union's dime, union officials acknowledged.

Asked about the appropriateness of running his private business out of the JCEA office using union resources, Favia found nothing wrong. "I've been doing it for 38 years," Favia said Tuesday.

According to state records, UTAH was incorporated in 1970. Favia is the president, his wife Olympia the treasurer, and his daughter Suzanne the secretary.

Favia, 76, explained that in good years UTAH makes about $2,000 profit, but some years he loses that much.

"It's almost like a travel club," Favia said. "The ultimate goal is to break even." Favia refused to share the company's IRS tax statements.

Favia said he compensates the JCEA for the union resources used by UTAH by donating $500 to $1,000 to the JCEA's "philanthropic fund" each year. If secretaries have to stay after work to work on UTAH-related matters, he pays them out of his own pocket, he said. But that rarely happens, since he only receives "one or two" calls about UTAH trips during the day each week, he said.

UTAH pays the JCEA $100 per ad, Favia said, acknowledging no other travel-related firm has ever advertised in the union newsletter. Some teachers who own travel companies made inquiries, but they decided against it given the limited audience, Favia said.

Gerald McCann, the former mayor and recently elected school board member, blasted Favia's actions as "criminal."

"This is a union office, it's not the 'Favia Travel Agency,'" said McCann, whose school board victory was challenged by a JCEA-backed candidate. "You can't be running a profit-making corporation out of a nonprofit business. That's an IRS violation.

"If Tom Favia doesn't think it's a crime, I will file the criminal complaint and we'll let someone else figure out whether it's a crime," added McCann, who served time in prison for bank fraud and tax evasion unrelated to his time in the Mayor's Office.

Hudson County First Assistant Prosecutor Guy Gregory declined to comment on the subject.

But Judith Schneider, executive director of the New York-based union watchdog group Association for Union Democracy, thinks McCann has a point.

"If he (Favia) is using the union offices, union telephones, union time to do for-profit work, it would appear to have not just ethical violations, but more substantive legal violations, depending on what's actually happening," Schneider said.

Posted on: 2007/8/2 11:57
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