Members of an influential local union are asking a federal judge to restore local control a year after the national union appointed a trustee to bring order amid a messy leadership spat.
In a motion filed Dec. 14 in Chicago federal court, 13 members of Service Employees International Union Local 73 sought a court order to end the current trustee oversight of their chapter as of Feb. 3, 2018, and to order elections for self governance under the auspices of the Department of Labor.
The move comes only 14 months after the Washington, D.C.-based SEIU invoked provisions in the union’s constitution allowing it to wrest control of Local 73 from its officers, but the union said the court needs to step in so it can elect its own officers on a proper timetable.
In the August 2016 move, SEIU said governance of the local had slipped into “crisis” marked by “incessant infighting,” exemplified in public legal actions pending in Chicago courtrooms.
Eliseo Medina, former SEIU secretary-treasurer, was named trustee to oversee Local 73. Dian Palmer, president of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, and Lenore Friedlander, an officer from SEIU Local 32BJ, were named deputy trustees. The workers’ suit named co-trustees Palmer and Denise Poloyac as defendants, along with SEIU President Mary Kay Henry. They cited the 1959 Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, which mandates such trusteeships expire in 18 months.
When announcing the trustee appointments, SEIU cited a power struggle between Local 73’s then-President Christine Boardman and Secretary-Treasurer Matthew Brandon that had “reached a boiling point” and seriously disrupted the operations and functioning of the Local, allegedly putting members’ interests at risk.
“President Boardman and Secretary-Treasurer Brandon each challenge the basic legitimacy of the other’s authority to hold office or lead the Local, resulting in a debilitating dysfunction of the Local’s governance process as well as causing instability and confusion within the Local and its membership,” the union said in its release.
“Circumstances deteriorated so badly that the Local was unable to conduct the July 15, 2016, Executive Board meeting to carry out union business or hold a basic membership meeting scheduled for the next day,” SEIU said.
In their complaint, which cited several sections of SEIU bylaws, the workers said they want to elect a new president and secretary-treasurer as well as five vice presidents, a recording secretary and 100 executive board members. They said the union and trustees “failed and refused to schedule a membership meeting” and have not taken steps to restore local control.
Poloyac “canceled unilaterally without cause” a general membership meeting set for Friday, Dec. 16, according to the complaint, which said members learned of this in an email sent Dec. 12 by Martha Gallegos, Local 73’s special project manager. The workers said the last general membership meeting was Sept. 23, during which a motion for local elections was made and seconded from the floor, but the complaint said Poloyac rejected the motion and said the session was not a “general membership meeting.”
The workers want the court to declare the trusteeship void as of Feb. 3. To have an election take effect by that date and comply with SEIU rules, the general membership meeting would need to happen no later than Thursday, Jan. 4, and union members would need to get written notice by Thursday, Dec. 21, the lawsuit said.
Representing the workers in this matter are attorneys from Glen J. Dunn & Associates, Ltd., and MPC Law Group, both of Chicago.