NAS Sigonella commissary remains a pawn in court judgment
By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 27, 2016
Three weeks after most goods were “sequestered” at the commissary at Naval Air Station Sigonella, shoppers are being promised that more food items will be arriving in about a week to shelves that have been partially restocked.
“They’ve been able to expand their offering of products fairly robustly,” said Jeff Galvin, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy.
Shoppers were unable to buy anything but fresh meat and produce after an Italian bailiff blocked the sale of other goods earlier this month. The bailiff was acting to collect damages awarded to a former Navy Exchange employee, an Italian national, who an Italian labor court ruled had been wrongly dismissed.
On Wednesday, base officials posted a Q and A on Facebook saying they were “ordering a wide variety of items,” putting a priority on staples like bread and milk, and expecting shipments to arrive through the supply chain in “roughly one week.”
On Tuesday, the commissary was closed for part of the day without any notice - for an inventory, according to the former NEX employee and plaintiff, Carmelo Cocuzza. So far little progress appears to have been made in resolving the standoff between him and U.S. officials over his court judgment.
Cocuzza won a judgment in the labor court for wrongful termination after he was fired in 2000. The judgment awarded the former NEX window dresser back pay — some $500,000, Cocuzza said — and instructed that he be rehired. The regional high court in Sicily sustained the judgment in 2014.
But since then, Cocuzza and U.S. officials had been unable to come to terms. Officials have refused to rehire him, and declined to offer a specific amount of money. So, Cocuzza persuaded a local court judge to grant an order allowing the court bailiff to seize goods for auction.
The U.S. has argued in recent local court hearings that the order to seize the goods was invalid. A decision is expected this week, Cocuzza and U.S. officials said.
Cocuzza said in an interview last week that he had stopped short of attaching base assets on three separate occasions this year after officials told him they would find a solution. He said that the bailiff earlier this month would have sequestered goods in the NEX, such as jewelry, to satisfy his claim but that base officials closed the store and declined to reopen it. When the same thing happened the next day, he said, the bailiff decided to go to the commissary.
“I never wanted to do this,” Cocuzza said. “All I want to do is end this issue. Really, it’s two years since I won my (judgment) I have been trying to deal with these people.”
Base officials have declined interview requests, referring questions about the issue to State Department officials. State Department officials said they were negotiating in good faith with Cocuzza and hoped to soon resolve the matter.
In the meantime, NAS Sigonella officials said on Facebook that they were working to alleviate customer hardships. The NEX would sell some former commissary items, and a variety of base officials were “working with those members of the community who have raised their individual needs.”
Officials advised people needing rides to stores off base to check the schedule for Morale, Welfare and Recreation trips, which offer excursions for “eligible unaccompanied E1-E6 personnel.”
“Porta di Catania is a popular trip, which offers a variety of shops including grocery and apparel, as well as a number of eateries,” the Facebook post said.
The post made clear that the food court would be unaffected and that peoples’ cost of living allowance would not automatically rise because it is adjusted only once a year.
“We hope to be able to reopen the full store in the near future,” officials wrote on Facebook.