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The SEIU responds

September 08, 2008|Andy Stern | Andy Stern is president of the 2-million-member Service Employees International Union.

Over the last 12 years, the Service Employees International Union has led the fight for the political reforms that America's working people need. On issues ranging from healthcare to immigration to corporate responsibility, we have pressed our clear and consistent view that America must change in order to win. Now it's our turn to make some changes.

Recent reports in The Times have raised serious questions about how money from a local chapter may have been misused. The stories accuse Tyrone Freeman, president of Local 6434, of steering payments and contracts to companies owned by his relatives and other financial improprieties.

The SEIU, deeply troubled by these allegations, immediately launched its own investigation, and, within two weeks, Freeman and his field director had gone on leave and the SEIU had taken over running the local union.

At the SEIU, we understand that reform, like charity, must begin at home.

Our unions represent some of the hardest-working men and women in America, workers who sweep floors and empty bedpans for a living wage. The first responsibility of every union official is to do what is right by those who pay dues out of their paychecks every week. When we fail in that obligation, our union loses its moral center and its soul.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, September 10, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 23 Editorial pages Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Union leader: A Sept. 8 Op-Ed article on reforming the Service Employees International Union misstated the affiliation of Alejandro Stephens. He was never the president of Local 721. He is the former president of Local 660.

Any misuse of member dues calls into question the hard work and reputations of thousands of honest and committed rank-and-file members, stewards, local union leaders and staff. What's more, it hands anti-worker corporations and reform opponents the ammunition they need to defeat workers trying to organize and win fair contracts.

At the SEIU, we will not tolerate any actions that put the interests of our members at risk, and we will respond to credible allegations wherever they occur. Period.

In response to the allegations in Los Angeles, the SEIU immediately placed a team of auditors and investigators on the ground. Then we assumed day-to-day operations of United Long-term Care Workers Local 6434, and we retained former California Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp to assist in the investigation and former California Supreme Court Justice Joseph Grodin to serve as the outside hearing officer to review our findings.

We've also taken action regarding allegations at two other California chapters. We have demanded the immediate reimbursement of monies that may have been improperly paid to Alejandro Stephens, a former president of Los Angeles-based Local 721. In addition, we are pursuing action against another of our chapters, Oakland-based United Healthcare Workers-West, where the leadership is charged with diverting millions of dollars of union treasury monies, in possible violation of federal law.

Most important, we are making changes to ensure that abuses such as this never happen again.

We are calling on every SEIU local across the country to immediately adopt a standard code of ethics -- guidelines the International Union adopted several years ago -- that protects the interests of members. The new rules:

* Prohibit conflicts of interest and nepotism by barring any SEIU officer or manager from deals involving a family member, a personal financial interest or the interest of a business partner;

* Ban accepting gifts or payments from restricted sources, such as employers negotiating with any SEIU local union;

* Strictly limit personal use of union property;

* Make sure trust accounts established to fund health, welfare or retirement benefits aren't used to pay officers or managers; and

* Prevent individuals convicted of a felony related to abuse of their employment from serving as union officers or managers.

In addition, we have established a commission on ethics and standards to find ways to beef up our ethics education and enforcement. We will ask the commission to come back in 90 days with a comprehensive package of recommendations on how to make sure that our leadership from Los Angeles to Washington is held accountable. When we come out on the other side of this, we want the SEIU to represent organized labor's ethical gold standard.

At the SEIU, we are committed to leading a reform movement within labor. That means setting the highest standards of honesty and integrity. If we want to continue to be the voice of millions seeking fairness in their workplace, we can be nothing less.

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