Friday, December 29, 2017

SEIU Members Sue Purple Palace as Independent Union Pushes for Decertification Elections

In mid-December, more than a dozen members of SEIU Local 73 sued SEIU President Mary Kay Henry in Chicago federal court in an effort to return their union to local governance through democratic elections.  Seventeen months ago, Henry imposed a trusteeship on Local 73, removing the union’s officers and board and appointing Eliseo Medina, Dian Palmer (president of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin) and Denise Poloyac (Director of SEIU’s Property Services Division) to run the union as trustees.

In another interesting development, Matthew Brandon – Local 73’s former Secretary-Treasurer who was removed from office by Henry’s trusteeship – has launched an independent union that’s actively organizing elections to decertify SEIU, according to readers. Brandon’s new union has been moving towards elections at various units, including Cook County’s hospital maintenance department and the City of Chicago’s building maintenance department, say readers.

SEIU International has reportedly sent 15 staffers to Chicago to fight these decertification efforts. A reader reports that SEIU’s trustees at Local 73 recently fielded a phone call from Mary Kay Henry and Andy Stern regarding the challenge presented by Matt Brandon’s independent union.

The federal lawsuit, filed on December 14, asks the court to declare the trusteeship void as of February 3, 2018. It cites the 1959 Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, which mandates that such trusteeships expire in 18 months. The plaintiffs want their union to conduct elections to choose its officers and board members prior to February.

The lawsuit reads:
Specifically, plaintiffs are seeking a Court Order requiring that the democratic process be upheld in that the current Trusteeship should terminate as mandated on February 3, 2018, that the SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, LOCAL #73, be restored to self-governance, that the process to hold elections be commenced immediately, and that this Honorable Court mandate that the Department of Labor oversee these elections to ensure non-biased, fair, impartial, Constitutional and democratic processes be maintained throughout.

According to the lawsuit and readers’ reports, SEIU’s trustees have log-jammed members’ requests to hold local elections. On September 23, the trustees held a general membership meeting and some workers showed up wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words “The time to vote is now.” A motion for local elections was made and seconded from the floor, but the lawsuit says Trustee Denise Poloyac rejected the motion and said the session was not a “general membership meeting.”

The next general membership meeting was scheduled for December 16. Here’s what happened, according to the lawsuit:
The general membership meeting scheduled for December 16, 2017 was cancelled unilaterally without cause by Trustee Poloyac, and this was communicated to the members via an email from Martha Gallegos, the Office and Special Project Manager for Local #73 sent on December 12, 2017.

Just two days after the trustees announced the cancellation of the meeting, thirteen union members filed their suit in Chicago federal court. The suit alleges:
Defendants have failed and refused to schedule a membership meeting of Local 73, have failed to seek nominations for a ballot and have generally failed to comply with the election procedures necessary in order to return control of Local 73 to its members following the February 3, 2018 termination of the Trusteeship.

Below is a copy of the lawsuit, which includes a copy of the e-mail sent by Martha Gallegos canceling the union’s general membership meeting on December 16.

For press coverage, see this article: Scott Holland, “SEIU Local 73 members ask judge to order national union to order local elections, restore local control,” Cook County Record, December 15, 2017.